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What Is a Service Dog for Schizophrenia, and How Do I Get One?

The loving presence of a pet can do wonders for mental health. This is especially true for people who have service or emotional support animals.1-4

Therapeutic uses for dogs and other animals date back centuries. Dogs provide comfort and companionship to their owners. They can reduce social anxiety and give people a sense of purpose.1,2

Service dogs for schizophrenia can help people with the condition feel calmer in social settings. These trained pets can also provide comfort and protection and alert their handlers to danger.1,2

Benefits of service dogs for schizophrenia

A service dog for schizophrenia falls under the category of a psychiatric service dog. These dogs are specially trained to perform key tasks and promote independence. The dog can help its handler stay grounded and provide a sense of stability.1,2

The list of conditions a psychiatric service dog can help with includes:1,2

Types of support and service dogs

There are slight differences between therapy dogs, emotional support animals, and service dogs.2-4

Therapy dogs

These dogs can be used for therapy but are not trained to perform special tasks. Therapy dogs may visit groups of people at care homes, hospitals, schools, or rehab facilities.2,4

These dogs may be registered with a therapy dog program and tested and approved for their temperament. However, they do not have special public access rights.2,4

Emotional support animals

These animals offer emotional support to their owners rather than a group of people in a place like a care home. The animals provide comfort and security to their handlers but act more like a pet than a service dog. They can be helpful for people with conditions like anxiety, or those dealing with grief or trauma.2,4

Emotional support animals are protected by federal law and the Fair Housing Act. To you have an animal recognized as an emotional support animal, you need a signed letter from a doctor stating that you have a mental health condition and that the animal provides support.2,4

Service dogs

A service dog goes through special training to assist a person with tasks and support their independence related to a specific condition. Their handler must have a physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disability.2,4

These dogs often accompany their handlers out in public, including stores or public transit. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects service dogs that complete the proper training and certification.2-4

Qualifying for a service dog is fairly easy. But finding a dog that is properly trained or training the dog yourself can take a while.2-4

What is a psychiatric service dog?

Service dogs perform a variety of tasks and provide emotional support for people with physical disabilities and mental health conditions. A psychiatric service dog undergoes training to assist its handler in a variety of ways while protecting them from harm.1-4

These dogs can help improve a handler’s sense of:1

Tasks for service dogs for schizophrenia

People living with schizophrenia experience a different perception of reality, including delusions and hallucinations. An active episode of the condition can disrupt daily life and make routine tasks difficult.2,5

A service dog can help their handler accomplish daily tasks and provide a grounding presence. A service dog gives them something to care for and can help them stick with a routine or respond to emergency situations.1,2

General tasks performed by psychiatric service dogs may include:1

  • Reducing anxiety through tactile stimulation
  • Nudging/pawing to bring their owner back to the present
  • Responding to their owner's state of mind
  • Providing constant body contact
  • Deep pressure stimulation
  • Interrupting behaviors and redirecting attention
  • Assisting with travel and social situations

More specific tasks can be:1,2

  • Waking up their owner
  • Bringing medicine
  • Finding help in an emergency and leading first responders to their owner
  • Guiding their owner home if they become disoriented
  • Fetching a phone or device
  • Helping with balance, choking, or other emergencies
  • Identifying hallucinations
  • Blocking contact from other people

How to get a service dog for schizophrenia

If you want to get a service dog for schizophrenia, talk to your doctor or psychiatrist. You may need to provide medical records or other documentation. You must have a mental health condition that impacts your daily life and show how the service dog would benefit your condition.2

Ask for a letter of support from your doctor before applying for a psychiatric service dog. The application process can take a while, especially if you want a certified psychiatric service dog to accompany you out in public.2

Other things to consider include:2

  • Can you participate in the dog's training?
  • Do you have the capacity to give commands?
  • Can you properly care for the dog and provide a stable home?
  • Can you pay for the care, maintenance, and training of the dog?

Training a service dog for schizophrenia

Training your own dog as a psychiatric service dog is 1 option. This way, you complete training and certification with your dog, at your own pace.2

The training includes basic obedience training, so your dog remains calm and attentive in public. Psychiatric service dogs also learn specific cues and tasks, such as to bark to alert their handlers. The training process involves:2

  • Evaluating the handler's needs and abilities
  • Selecting a suitable dog with a good temperament
  • Basic obedience training for commands
  • Task training specific to the handler's needs
  • Public access training to listen and stay calm in public places

In-person training for psychiatric service dogs can be expensive but allows you to work with your dog alongside an experienced trainer. Online training courses can make it more affordable.2

Training for PSDs can cost upward of $30,000 and depends on factors like breed, training needed, and the needs of the handler based on their disability.2

Resources for trained service dogs

You also can buy a service dog that is already trained. This process takes time and costs significantly more money. Some nonprofit organizations assist veterans and other qualified individuals with the process.2-4

It is important to understand the requirements for obtaining or registering a service dog for schizophrenia. US Service Animals (USSA) can help explain the process or connect you with a doctor. USA Service Dog Registration is another resource that can help you properly register your dog.2,4

Psychiatric service dogs assist people of all ages with a range of mental health conditions. They can bring comfort, hope, and stability to their handlers. They help ease anxiety, improve access to public places, and support social activities. But owning a dog requires a lot of responsibility. It is important to do the proper research and make sure you are ready for the commitment.1,2

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.