A PSD letter is a signed letter from a licensed healthcare professional that helps someone establish whether they have a qualifying disability for purposes of owning a psychiatric service dog. Owners of psychiatric service dogs have special legal rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Act (FHA), and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) that give them access to places regular pets aren’t allowed to go. For example, PSDs are allowed to board flights free of charge. 

If you are ready to work with a licensed healthcare professional for a PSD letter, start here.

If you’re interested in obtaining a psychiatric service dog (PSD) letter, we will cover all of the important details you should know. There are many issues to consider if you are thinking about owning a psychiatric service dog. They are not suitable for everyone and can take a lot of work to train properly. In many cases, an emotional support animal may be more appropriate for someone dealing with mental health issues. We will discuss common questions like what a psychiatric service dog is, how someone qualifies for a psychiatric service dog, and what, if any, documentation is needed to prove that a dog is a PSD. 

  1. What is a psychiatric service dog?
  2. Where are psychiatric service dogs allowed to go?
  3. Who qualifies for a psychiatric service dog?
  4. What is a psychiatric service dog (PSD) letter?
  5. How do I get a psychiatric service dog (PSD) letter?
  6. How do I certify or register a psychiatric service dog?
  7. Can my emotional support animal be a psychiatric service dog?
  8. Final thoughts

1. What is a psychiatric service dog?

A psychiatric service dog is a type of service animal that assists people that have invisible disabilities. To qualify as a PSD, a dog must be individually trained to perform tasks related to a mental, emotional, or learning disability. Only dogs can qualify as psychiatric service animals, no other type of animal. However, there are no limitations of breed or size for PSDs.   

Psychiatric service dogs perform an incredible array of tasks.

  • they can calm a handler having an anxiety or panic attack with pressure or tactile stimulation,
  • help ground and reorient a person have a psychotic episode,
  • remind a person to take their medication,
  • prevent someone from oversleeping, or
  • interrupt obsessive-compulsive or self-destructive behaviors.

This is just a small sample of the numerous tasks that PSDs are trained to perform

A psychiatric service dog should also be trained to behave and perform its tasks in any public setting. A PSD should not become easily distracted by food, people, other animals, or moving objects. They should be able to navigate congested areas such as airports, stores, and other public venues. A PSD needs to be under the handler’s control at all times and be able to focus on its tasks even in busy environments that are unfamiliar.

PSDs can be trained by the handler or professionally by a third party. The ADA does not require the use of a professional trainer or a particular training program or school. If the owner is up to the task, they can train a PSD themselves. Many PSD owners have successfully trained their psychiatric service dogs without the assistance of third parties. However, if you’re a potential PSD owner, you should be honest about your abilities as a trainer and level of commitment to getting the job done. To get started with training your dog, you may find this online training class helpful.

2. Where are psychiatric service dogs allowed to go?

Psychiatric service dogs are generally allowed in areas where the public can go, even if other pets may be prohibited. PSDs can accompany their owners in places like stores, restaurants, beaches, schools, libraries, and other public areas that may otherwise prohibit pets. 

PSDs also have the right to live with their owners in housing free of charge, even if the building normally bans animals and pets.

And PSDs have the right to board airplanes if the handler submits the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form before the flight. PSDs are allowed to board flights free of charge. 

However, the right of access for PSD owners is not absolute. A venue may deny entry to a PSD if allowing the PSD would create a direct threat to the health or safety of others. A PSD can also be denied entry if it is not under the control of the handler. 

3. Who qualifies for a psychiatric service dog?

In order to qualify for a psychiatric service dog, the handler must have a mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. PSD owners have conditions like (but not limited to):

  • severe depression
  • anxiety
  • panic disorders
  • post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD)
  • phobias
  • learning disabilities
  • autism

A licensed mental health professional is best suited to evaluate mental and emotional health. If you would like to work with an LMHP on this, you may submit an order by filling out this questionnaire.  

4. What is a psychiatric service dog (PSD) letter?

Having a disability as defined by the ADA is a prerequisite to owning a service animal. A PSD letter is a signed letter from a licensed healthcare professional such as a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, doctor, nurse, or counselor that states whether the healthcare professional believes the client may have a mental or emotional disability. The purpose of a PSD letter is to help an individual understand whether they have a qualifying condition under relevant disability laws to own a psychiatric service dog. 

A PSD letter does not certify that a PSD has been properly trained. Representing whether the PSD has been trained to perform tasks relating to the handler’s disability and is capable of being in public environments is a responsibility that always falls on the handler. The licensed healthcare professional is not responsible for this aspect of PSD ownership but can help evaluate the handler’s mental health. 

PSD letters are used by people who are on the path to becoming PSD owners. They may not yet have fully trained their PSD or adopted a dog yet, but they want to understand whether they have a qualifying condition. PSD letters are also obtained by existing PSD owners who want peace of mind and documentation regarding their condition. 

5. How do I get a psychiatric service dog (PSD) letter?

If you’re interested in obtaining a PSD letter, you can ask your existing healthcare provider responsible for your mental health. Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals are unaware of PSDs and assistance animal laws. 

ESA Doctors works with licensed healthcare professionals who are knowledgeable about assistance animals and can assess whether you have an ADA disability for purposes of owning a psychiatric service dog. These compassionate professionals work remotely, so you don’t have to leave the comforts of your home. Whether you’re interested in training a PSD or already have one, the state-licensed professionals we work with can help you get a current PSD letter

6. How do I certify or register a psychiatric service dog?

There is no requirement to certify or register a psychiatric service dog. In fact, the DOJ has specifically stated that they do not recognize certification or registration documents as proof that a dog is a psychiatric service dog. If you’re at a public venue, staff members can only ask two questions:

  1. Is the dog a PSD required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? 

Under the ADA, you do not have to disclose specific information about your disability. You also have a right to dignity—you cannot be forced to have your PSD demonstrate its task. 

You are not required to carry around or submit any documentation in order to be accommodated if you are with your PSD, except for air travel. For flights, PSD owners must submit a special service animal form to self-certify that their dog is indeed a psychiatric service dog prior to boarding the flight. 

Many psychiatric service dog owners use accessories like ID cards, badges, vests, tags, and harnesses. PSD owners use service animal paraphernalia for convenience to help signal the public that their psychiatric service dog is not a normal pet. They help inform strangers and create appropriate boundaries; for example, they can be a shield against aggressive inquiries or curious children. However, these items do not qualify a dog as a PSD. They are optional and do not have any legal weight, although third parties may use them as a factor to help determine if they are dealing with a service animal. 

7. Can my emotional support animal be a psychiatric service dog?

ESA owners should be aware that emotional support animals are very different from PSDs. The critical difference is that PSDs are trained to perform tasks relating to a disability, whereas ESAs are not. It is possible to train an ESA to become a PSD. However, that requires a few things. Most importantly, a PSD exists because it is trained to perform tasks relating to a disability. If no need for a trained task exists, then an ESA is appropriate. However, if you need a PSD and have the patience and dedication to train your dog properly, it is certainly possible for an ESA to become a PSD. Some owners have successfully made that transition. 

8. Final thoughts

Psychiatric service dogs often perform life-saving tasks for their handlers. They not only assist in times of crisis and emergency but also help their handlers maintain a healthy lifestyle and routine. PSD handlers enjoy many privileges under disability laws, but those privileges come with responsibilities. PSD handlers must ensure that their animals are fully trained to perform disability-related tasks and have the ability to comport themselves in all kinds of public settings. 

If you’re interested in consulting with a licensed healthcare professional to see if a PSD could potentially help you, or you’re interested in qualifying for a PSD letter, ESA Doctors can help. 

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