Dogs are more than just a man’s best friend. Not only do they look adorable and fun to be with, but they also provide their owners some health benefits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), owning a pet gives you opportunities to exercise, socialize, and get outside. Walking or playing with pets can also lower blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels.
Having a specially trained service dog is beneficial for people with anxiety disorders. Service dogs are companion animals that assist people with physical or mental health conditions.
Why Should You Get A Service Dog?
Anxiety disorders are a serious medical condition affecting 40 million adults in the US every year, making them the most common mental illness. Anxiety disorder refers to specific psychiatric disorders involving extreme fear or worry, such as general anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic attacks. Such mental health problems can interfere with someone’s daily life.
When it comes to service dogs, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is that their handlers have a physical disability, like vision impairment or limited mobility. Service dogs, however, also help people with invisible disabilities. Known as Psychiatric Service Dogs, they have undergone specialized training to help people with anxiety, bipolar disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions. They are also recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
If you or someone you know have an anxiety disorder, having a psychiatric service dog can improve your day-to-day life. They can go with you anywhere, including places that don’t usually allow pets.
Service dogs can learn specific tasks according to their owners’ needs. For example, they can detect signs of an anxiety attack before it happens. They can also fetch medication or water during an anxiety attack or bring someone to help you.
Psychiatric service dogs can help people of all ages, including children. Any breed of dog can be a service dog. But the dog’s temperament and ability to complete the training are important to consider.
Getting A Psychiatric Service Dog
There are specialist organizations that offer service dogs. But you have to meet certain criteria to qualify. For example, you need to have a physical disability or debilitating mental health condition. You should also provide a recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional.
As the owner, you have the responsibilities to take care of the service dog. That’s why your ability to consistently care for and maintain a dog for at least 12 years is an important consideration.
Keep in mind, however, that service dogs can be costly due to all the training involved. Each dog gets over 600 hours of training, veterinary care, grooming, and boarding.
If you want a less expensive option, you can choose to train the dog yourself. Consider working with a professional to help you train your puppy. It’s best to train dogs while they are young before they develop unwanted behavior. The most popular breeds to be a service dog include boxers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, huskies, poodles, and Labrador retrievers.
Not all people with anxiety disorders can qualify for a psychiatric service dog, however. In case you don’t qualify for one, consider having an emotional support animal (ESA). They are quite different from service dogs because they are not trained to perform specific tasks.
ESAs are companion animals that can provide you with the support you need. But they don’t have the same legal protections as service animals. Although they still have some protections, including an exemption from no-pet housing rules.
When getting an ESA, you must get a letter from a licensed mental health professional. State that an animal improves one or more characteristics of your condition.
Other Ways to Cope with Anxiety Disorders
Service dogs are not the only option that can help you deal with an anxiety disorder. You may also consider psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Some people take medications, like anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, or sedatives, alongside psychotherapy to reduce anxiety symptoms. Consult a mental health professional to learn how you can properly deal with your condition.
Making some lifestyle changes can also help manage anxiety symptoms. Take time to get regular exercise, cutting down caffeine intake, eating healthy meals, and doing yoga and meditation.
Living with an anxiety disorder is not easy. There will be difficult days when you will struggle to complete daily tasks. Getting help is essential so you can cope with your condition healthily. Consult a professional to know if you can get a psychiatric service dog. If not, consider other ways to help you manage your anxiety symptoms.