Service dog owners are granted many legal rights in the United States. They are allowed in places many pets normally can’t go, including the cabin of airplanes free of charge. When most people think of service dogs, they picture dogs that help people with physical disabilities like visual impairment or mobility issues. Service dogs, however, can also help people with invisible disabilities that are mental or emotional, such as severe depression, anxiety, or PTSD. 

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a dog that has been trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rules, psychiatric service dogs are allowed on flights free of charge as long as the owner completes the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form

The DOT’s Form requires service animal owners to certify that they have a disability requiring a task-trained dog. Owners of psychiatric service dogs get help from licensed healthcare professionals to determine if they meet the criteria of having a disability. For eligible patients and clients, a healthcare or mental health professional can provide a signed PSD letter. 

In this post, we’ll explore what exactly is in a PSD letter, why it’s useful, and what benefits you have as an owner of a psychiatric service dog. 

1. Why do you need a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) Letter?
2. What does a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) letter look like?
3. Who can write a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) Letter?
4. Is a PSD letter all I need to have a psychiatric service dog?
5. How can I fly with a PSD letter?
6. How can someone verify that I have a PSD?

If you are interested in a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter, we are happy to connect you with a licensed healthcare provider so they may assist you.

PSD Letter

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1. Why do you need a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) Letter?

To travel with a service dog, the owner must self-certify they have a disability that requires a service dog on a federal form. Falsely mispresenting your condition can result in penalties under the law, so it’s important to be truthful and accurate when you complete the form. 

An eligible disability has a specific legal definition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The handler must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A licensed healthcare professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical social worker, therapist, counselor, or doctor can evaluate whether you meet these criteria. 

If you meet the relevant criteria, the provider can give you a signed letter (known as a PSD letter) that contains their determination of whether you have a service dog eligible for a psychiatric disability. A PSD letter is used to document your condition and provides you with peace of mind having the opinion of a licensed third party. 

2. What does a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) letter look like?

PSD letters will each look a little different since the licensed professionals who write them have leeway in writing the letter. Each provider will also use their professional judgment in what to convey. However, there are some common elements in PSD letters and a few items you will want to make sure are included. A PSD letter should: 

  1. be on the licensed healthcare professional’s letterhead, 
  2. be dated and signed by the professional, 
  3. contain the professional’s contact information, 
  4. contain the professional’s opinion on whether you have a mental or emotional disability that can qualify for a psychiatric service dog. 

It is also common for PSD letters to contain a disclaimer regarding the actual service dog; it is not the healthcare professional’s role to assess whether the service dog has been properly trained and is ready to be in public areas. That job falls to the trainer of the service dog, which can be the owner or a third-party trainer. 

If you’re interested in qualifying for a PSD letter, you can connect with a professional licensed for your state online. Just click on the link below and fill out the questionnaire. You will be in direct contact with a state-licensed professional to work on your PSD letter. The process is convenient, done remotely, and costs one low fee. 

PSD Letter - Sample - ESA Doctors
What a psychiatric service dog letter can look like (sample letter).

3. Who can write a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) Letter?

A PSD letter should can from someone familiar with the state of your mental and emotional health. A licensed mental health or healthcare professional is best suited to make this evaluation. That includes people like psychologists, doctors, counselors, social workers, psychiatrists, among others. 

If you are currently seeing someone for your mental health issues, it’s worth discussing your psychiatric service dog-related needs with them. Be aware that not all healthcare professionals are familiar with service dog rules and requirements. It helps to see someone that has experience or specializes in assistance animals. 

Much progress has been made regarding online help and telehealth, and PSD letters are no exception. You can obtain a PSD letter from a healthcare professional that offers their services online without the need for in-person visits. 

How to Get your Psychiatric Service Dog Letter from ESA Doctors

How To Get a PSD Letter - Three Easy Steps - ESADoctors

4. Is a PSD letter all I need to have a psychiatric service dog?

No, having a PSD letter is just a start if you want to own a psychiatric service dog. A psychiatric service dog must be individually trained to perform a job or task relating to your disability. There are countless jobs that service dogs for psychiatric conditions are called on to do. They include things like: 

  • Providing calm during moments of distress with pawing or pressure stimulation. 
  • Interrupting dissociative episodes. 
  • Reminding the handler to perform daily tasks like taking medication.
  • Providing buffering in crowded environments. 

In addition to being task-trained, a psychiatric service dog must also be prepared for being taken in public. They should be well-behaved around other people and animals and be under the handler’s control at all times. A PSD can be removed from the airport or flight if it is exhibiting disruptive or aggressive behavior. A PSD owner must self-certify on the DOT’s air travel form that the dog has been trained and will be under the handler’s control at all times. 

5. How can I fly with a PSD letter?

If you plan to travel with a psychiatric service dog, you must submit the DOT’s service animal form to the airline in advance, but you do not need to submit your PSD letter. Your PSD letter is for your personal records and is backup documentation for your PSD-eligible disability. 

The DOT form requires you to make several self-certifications regarding your PSD. You also need to name the dog’s trainer (which is frequently just the handler or owner) and the PSD’s veterinarian (but their signature is not required). 

For detailed information on how to fly with a psychiatric service dog, click on your airline in the links below:

6. How can someone verify that I have a PSD?

A PSD letter is personal to the individual it was written for and does not need to be shared, unless you want to do so voluntarily. When flying, the airline will verify your PSD by reviewing your completed DOT Service Animal Air Transportation Form. If you’re out in public, staff members can verify your PSD with two verbal questions: 

  1. Is the dog required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task does the PSD perform?

No one has the right to ask specifics regarding your condition, including the sensitive details that might be in your Psychiatric Service Dog Letter. You also have a right to dignity: no one can ask that you demonstrate your dog’s abilities on the spot. 

You never have to share your PSD letter with a third party unless you want to do so. Remember, a PSD letter is to help assure you that you have a PSD-eligible condition and can make certifications regarding your condition. A PSD letter may contain sensitive details regarding your mental health, and you may want to keep it private. If you choose to disclose your PSD letter as additional proof, that is your right. 

Need a PSD letter from a licensed therapist?

See if you have a qualifying disorder for a PSD by clicking the link below.