Emotional Support Dogs vs. Psychiatric Service Animals

For the purposes of this post:
ESA – Emotional Support Animal
PSD – Psychiatric Service Dog

Let’s talk about Psychiatric Service Animals first. Let’s recall that in order for a dog to be a service dog it must be trained to help a person with a disability and have specific tasks it is trained to perform to mitigate the person’s disability. So, with that being said – under both state and federal law, a dog that is trained to perform specific tasks to mitigate a person’s psychiatric disability, is a psychiatric service animal. There are many tasks that someone can perform. The most common task that I have seen or heard about is “blocking,” where the service dog will stand beside or behind their handler if others are approaching to prevent them from getting to close to their handler.. for example if the individual has PTSD or an anxiety disorder. Other tasks that I know psychiatric service dogs can do are to prevent the handlers from engaging in destructive or impulsive behaviors, reminding the person to take their medicine, checking on their handle periodically, removing their handler from dangerous situations or when they become disoriented, etc.

Emotional Services Animals (ESA) also benefit individuals with psychiatric disabilities. They comfort them when they are anxious, upset, or otherwise unwell and provide companionship that can assist in maintaining one’s overall mental health. However, most often they benefit them by their mere presence, not because they perform specific tasks. Comforting the person, being their companion, or just helping their general well-being aren’t the kind of tasks that the ADA considers when talking about what legally makes a service dog, a service dog. They dogs are not covered under the ADA. However, ESAs are not limited to just dogs, whereas PSDs are (aside from miniature horses in some situations). A lot of people try and take ESAs especially to take their dog on flights with them.. I’ve heard this is an increasing trend which is unfortunate and disheartening. ESAs ARE covered under the Fair Housing Act though as a reasonable accommodation.

This is just a little bit about the difference between Psychiatric Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals. What you should remember most is 1) Psychiatric Service Animals are covered under the ADA and are trained to perform specific tasks for their handler with a psychiatric disability. 2) Emotional Support Animals can be of great assistance but they aren’t covered under the ADA but are covered under the Fair Housing Act.

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Jessica N and Makiko

Jessica is a proud Texan. She graduated in 2014 with her Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling and is now employed. She is visually impaired and has a retinal disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa. Originally Jessica started blogging about everything from being diagnosed with the disease to where she is now, almost 9 years later. Then, Jessica went to Guide Dogs for the Blind and was blessed with Makiko, her new guide dog. Now, her blog "The Way Eye See The World" is about everything related to visual impairments, including guide dogs.

One thought on “Emotional Support Dogs vs. Psychiatric Service Animals”

  1. I found your post very informative. I did know that people attempt to take their dogs on planes and claim they are support dogs, and knew that these dogs were actually emotional support dogs and not covered by the ADA. I did know that there were psychiatric support dogs but did not know these were covered by the ADA. I think this is a distinction that should be more available to the general public and those in the travel field, so that inadvertent misuse of the privilege of having a service dog accompanying a disabled person when they travel is less likely to occur. Yes there are those who knowingly attempt to get around the law, but there are probably others like myself who just don’t know the facts.
    my husband and I both own guide dogs which we have taken on planes and are very grateful for the ADA law that allows us to have our eyes and best friends traveling right beside us. We have heard small dogs barking in baskets and have wondered why these dogs were allowed on the planes. Maybe they were emotional support dogs, but maybe they were psychiatric support dogs. It is concerning to me to think that this law might change if it continues to be either abused or misunderstood by others. I have noticed that when flying, or travelling by train or bus, I have never been asked to show my guide dog ID card and wonder that if this practice were to become a standard part of the check-in or boarding – process, that it might cut down on abuse or misunderstanding of the ADA law.
    In short, education is the key here I believe.

    BTW, thank you for following the NFB Crafter’s Division blog. I hope you will enjoy it and share it with others who may benefit from it.

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