Service Dogs: Getting A Service Dog For Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There are many different ways to manage symptoms of an anxiety disorder because their type and severity can vary widely from person to person, and because what works for one individual may not work for another. Therapy is one commonly recommended method, and medication is sometimes prescribed as well. In some cases, an individual might also decide to obtain a service animal or dog for the day-to-day effects of an anxiety disorder. While a service animal is not generally considered to be a replacement for other forms of treatment for a mental health disorder, they can help an individual manage their symptoms and preserve their daily functioning in the face of them. Read on to learn more about what a service animal for anxiety can help with, how to get a service dog, and other facts to consider before starting the process of getting or training one.

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Service dogs vs. ESAs

Service animals (SAs)—which are typically dogs—are individually trained to perform daily tasks for an individual with a disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Though most people think of service animals as helping people with physical disabilities, they can also be useful for those experiencing a mental health condition, such as anxiety. For example, a service animal may remind a person with anxiety to do a specific task like take their medication, or they may help detect when a panic attack may be coming on in a person with panic disorder. Some SAs may be trained to provide deep pressure therapy (DPT), which typically involves hugging or cuddling and can have a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of those living with a mental illness. When a dog is used for support related to a mental health condition, they may be referred to as a psychiatric service dog (PSD). Psychiatric service dogs are not the same as emotional support animals (ESAs).

Unlike service dogs, which are trained to assist with or perform tasks that are directly related to their owner’s disability, emotional support animals (ESAs) are not explicitly trained to perform work for the owner. Instead, they can provide emotional support and comfort to people with a range of mental and physical health conditions. These animals and dogs are far less controlled than official service animals and they typically do not receive any special training. If you live with anxiety, you may benefit from a service animal/PSD or an ESA, depending on the type and severity of your anxiety symptoms and what your health and lifestyle are like. 

Service dog for anxiety

Adding a dog or other service animal to your home and your life can be a life-changing decision, so it’s worth considering it carefully. The following are benefits that service animals or emotional support animals could potentially provide to an individual with an anxiety disorder, and they should generally be considered alongside the costs and responsibilities of acquiring a service dog.

1. Service dogs can help improve your quality of life

Most anxiety service dogs, which are the most common type of service animals, are already affectionate animals that can bring their owners a sense of joy and comfort. Research from peer-reviewed studies indicates that dogs of various sizes and breeds can become effective psychiatric service dogs that can help people with mental health challenges, from improving daily functioning to coping with symptomsof post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even for people without a diagnosed mental health condition, dog ownership has been linked to several health benefits including decreased blood pressure, cholesterol, and feelings of loneliness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

2. They can help promote a sense of safety and decreased anxiety

For people with anxiety, the presence of a service dog can create an overall feeling of safety through tactile stimulation. To do this, the dog places pressure on the owner’s body—usually their chest, abdomen, or lap. This works as a therapeutic distraction from depression, anxiety attacks, post traumatic stress disorder, or panic attacks and may help “ground” the owner in the present moment by relaxing their body and nervous system and decreasing anxiety. Some service dogs can also be trained to detect the onset of a panic attack or anxiety attack and intervene with comforting strategies to help prevent it or minimize its impact.

3. You can have a service dog with you almost anywhere

Trained, certified service animals or service dogs for anxiety have legal entry to stores, workplaces, airplanes, and other public places that would otherwise restrict pets. That means that individuals who have service animals for anxiety can experience the relief they may provide almost anywhere. As a result, they can continue their daily routines with a dog for anxiety and enjoy social lives without having to sacrifice their mental health.


Is a service dog right for you?

Service animals can be trained to assist individuals who have any of a variety of physical and/or mental health conditions. If you’re wondering whether you should get a service dog or an ESA, you might ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I want a dog? Per the ADA, only dogs and miniature horses can be legal SAs. ESAs can be any animal that brings you comfort and emotional support.  
  2. Do I need help with specific tasks? If you need physical support in moving around your home, city, or workplace, reminders to take medication, or help with other daily tasks, service dogs can be trained to assist with these. In contrast, ESAs can provide companionship, support, and a sense of safety but do not complete service dog training to do work for their owners.
  3. Am I ready to take care of a dog? Any animal is a responsibility. While they may be able to help you with symptoms of anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, or a medical disability, you’ll still need to invest the time, energy, and finances required to make sure your dog is healthy and safe. SAs in particular are a big commitment, given the training required to legally register an animal as an official service animal.

Getting a service dog for anxiety

In order for a service dog to provide specific support for anxiety and to be legally recognized, they must be trained by a certified agency. Before beginning the process of training or acquiring a trained dog, keep the following points in mind.

Best service dog breeds for anxiety

Not every breed of dog has the natural ability or temperament to be trained as a service dog for people with anxiety. Dogs and other animals used for this type of service must be smart, calm, and have a natural desire to work. Some dog breeds that tend to make the best service animals include German Shepherds, Pomeranians, poodles, boxers, border collies, and golden retrievers, but these might not be the only dogs that can qualify as service dogs. In general, these breeds possess friendly, loving dispositions coupled with an intelligence that makes them easier to train.

Training costs
According to the American Kennel Club, the cost of training a service dog can exceed $25,000, which includes training the owner how to bond with and properly care for them.

Because of this high cost, some organizations offer free or reduced-cost service animals to people with disabilities, such as Assistance Dog United Campaign and Patriot Paws. If you’re looking for an affordable, reputable organization through which to source a service animal, you might ask your doctor or therapist for recommendations. They may know of local organizations that are trusted and/or that may offer financial aid to people with anxiety and other conditions who could benefit from a service animal.

Bonding with your service animal

When you train and adopt a service dog, the “human-animal bond” is essential. This dynamic relationship between the human owner and the dog can help ensure that the service animal will properly and reliably do the work they’re trained for. Building this bond is often part of the process of acquiring a service dog. Or, you might look into organizations that focus on training an owner’s existing pet to become a psychiatric service animal, since a strong bond is usually already in place in such cases.

Training a service dog for anxiety

Before adopting either a service dog or ESA, you may also want to familiarize yourself with dog temperament evaluations, which assess an animal’s social attitude and behavior toward both people and other dogs. If you already have a dog and want to determine if it’s well-behaved enough for service dog training, these kinds of assessments can be helpful. To find qualified dog temperament evaluators, you might consult national organizations such as:

Note that there are hundreds of organizations that claim to provide service animal training. While many are legitimate, it can be wise to remain wary of scam organizations that may request sensitive information and/or money in return for a “certified” service dog vest or ID tag. The ADA does not require service dogs to wear a vest, ID tag, or a specific harness—although you may choose to use one for your service dog—which is one way to detect a scam organization. 

Other ways to get support for anxiety

Not everyone with an anxiety disorder requires or can clearly benefit from a service dog. Since acquiring or training psychiatric service dogs can take a significant investment of time and money, many people choose to pursue other avenues first to manage their anxiety. There are a few options available, including seeing a medical doctor to be assessed for medication needs. Also, therapy from a licensed mental health professional can be one of the most effective methods for treating mental health conditions like anxiety disorders. A therapist may be able to help you address any root causes of your anxiety, shift distorted thought patterns that may be causing distress, and develop healthy coping mechanisms for symptoms.

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If you’d feel more comfortable meeting with a therapist in person, you can search for one in your local area or contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers. If you’d feel more comfortable meeting with a therapist virtually, you can consider an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. You can get matched with a licensed provider who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing—and all for a cost that’s comparable to most insurance co-pays. Research suggests that virtual cognitive behavioral therapy can produce “sustained, clinically meaningful improvements” in individuals with anxiety and depression, so online therapy can represent a viable treatment option in most cases. See below for client reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor reviews

“Danielle is very friendly and easy to talk to. It’s was really easy to get things started and my sessions flew by before I realized. It’s just natural feeling. I would recommend to anyone dealing with anxiety, especially if you’re open minded enough to try different methods. I’ve learned a bunch that I’ll continue using to help myself”.

“So far, Meashline has been a true gift. I’ve made a lot of progress with my anxiety, handling life challenges, understanding myself and what I want, and how to communicate with people who can’t communicate. The list goes on. She guides me through every struggle that I face and helps me come up with effective tools that I’ll actually use. I could write for days about how helpful she’s been. 10/10 recommend”.


A service dog or emotional support animal (ESA) can bring a sense of joy, safety, and calm to your life if you’re living with an anxiety disorder. However, because of the significant commitment and investment they can require, they may not be a viable option for everyone living with anxiety. Regardless of whether you obtain a trained service dog for anxiety, you may also benefit from therapy—whether in person or online. Online therapy allows you to connect with a therapist from home, which may help you experience less anxiety in your daily life. Take the first step toward living with less anxiety and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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