How People Cope With Service Dogs For Depression

By: Tanisha Herrin

Updated February 27, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

Service dogs provide specialized support for people with depression. In recent years, people coping with related symptoms have soared to record numbers. Many are seeking different ways to help them cope, including incorporating a variety of methods to achieve lasting results. Service dogs encourage the body to produce a hormone called oxytocin, or "love" hormone while limiting the production of a hormone called cortisol, or "stress" hormone. Your mental health benefits from this process because it promotes opportunities for socializing and exercising. Each component plays a significant role in coping with depression productively. Here are a few things to know about how a service dog for depression has helped others manage their symptoms and their lives.

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Types Of Service Dogs And Their Differences

Gaining an understanding of how service dogs are used for depression includes learning about the different types. Some are trained to assist people with depression and anxiety. The term "service dog" is often incorrectly used interchangeably with the term "therapy dog" when they are, in fact, different from each other because of how they are trained to provide support. Service dogs are required to meet certification standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA.

The certification allows dogs to travel with their owners in public places, including stores and restaurants. It also allows you to have a service dog on the premises of residential living communities even when dogs are not permitted. Some dogs wear a service vest, but they are not required to do so. Service dogs provide support for people who are visual or hearing-impaired, have problems with motor skills, and live with mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.

There are three types of service dogs to know when considering options for coping with depression, including psychiatric service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs. Therapy dogs and emotional support dogs don't have ADA certification and differ from psychiatric service dogs. Therapy dogs provide comfort to others in different settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and schools, while providing companionship to ease loneliness. Emotional support dogs provide comfort to people with depression, anxiety, bipolar, panic attacks, and autism. They are not trained to assist with daily tasks. To get this type of dog, a referral from your mental health specialist or doctor is required.

Psychiatric service dogs assist their owner by helping them complete tasks they stopped doing because of their mental health condition. They are trained to sense mood changes in their owner and help bring focus to themselves to prevent harmful behaviors. Besides depression, psychiatric service dogs assist people with anxiety, PTSD, and schizophrenia.

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Four Ways Service Dogs Help With Depression

Depression symptoms such as isolation, fatigue, and lack of interest in activities make daily living difficult with many not wanting to get out of bed or take care of themselves. A service dog may help make things better by doing the following:

  1. Promote regular exercise. Studies show people with dogs are more active daily and walk at least 30 minutes a day on average more than people without a dog. Exercise is encouraged for people dealing with mental health concerns such as anxiety, ADHD, and depression. It promotes the production of feel-good hormones in the brain and improves the circulation of them throughout the body. Service dogs ensure you get outside and enjoy the fresh air and also help boost your mood. On sunny days your body gets vitamin D, an important nutrient seen as a natural antidepressant.

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2. Improve and encourage relations with others. Dogs provide great company and friendship. They help you meet others when you go for walks because they attract attention and you feel less lonely because you have a furry friend to accompany you. Studies show dogs provide emotional benefits like human friends. You may see improvement with existing relationships while making new ones thanks to the relationship you'll develop with your dog.

3. Gain purpose, structure, and responsibility. Dogs encourage your mood when you feel down and help you tackle the day. They encourage structure and responsibility when they help you remember things to get done. They help build good mental health and self-esteem, even while helping to care for them. You'll learn personal capabilities you have cared for the dog to reinforce abilities you have to take care of yourself. Depression symptoms are alleviated when you focus on someone or something other than yourself.

4. Reduce anxiety and stress. The presence of a dog brings calmness, which helps improve your confidence. Dogs may warn you when they sense an anxiety attack. As you spend time with your dog, they help reduce feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress. They naturally work to make you feel happier. Dogs are useful for helping you focus on the present, reducing stress-related situations of worrying about the past.

A service dog can play a critical role in getting your life back on track. Symptoms of depression make daily living and relationships a challenge. Some with service dogs feel their dog is the only one that understands their emotional pain. Because of this, people with service dogs learn more about how their depression has affected their lives. While working to recapture the person they were before depression disrupted their lives, they are working to leave a depression in the past as they focus on moving forward living productive lives.

What To Know When Getting A Service Dog

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If you want to get a service dog, there are a few things to keep in mind. An authorization from your doctor or mental health professional may be required before obtaining a service dog. Insurance plans do not cover them and they require time, attention, and money. Know it takes time to get adjusted to the dog, and you'll have to do some training at home to help the dog get adjusted too.

Every day you need to work with the dog by practicing commands to help the dog learn about your needs. Some organizations help you learn how to adjust to your service dog. There are also organizations providing resources and tools to help you train a dog to become a service dog. Anyone dealing with depression may benefit from having a service dog, but may not need a certified dog.

If you have a dog as a pet, they can be trained to provide emotional support, and this doesn't require as much training as required for service dogs. Working with certain breeds is easier than others. Dogs with compatible levels of calmness and intelligence such as Labradoodles and golden retrievers are common breeds people like.

Connect with others that have service dogs. You may find online or local mental health support groups providing insight on the topic. Working with a service dog, along with using other tools and resources geared toward managing your mental health, may help you achieve favorable results. Mindfulness exercises, journaling, and online therapy are other options to consider that may help you gain additional benefits of working with a service.

Other Things To Consider About Service Dogs

Dogs help raise awareness about your personal needs and how you spend your time while coping with depression. If you want to adopt a service dog for depression, there are a few things to keep in mind to help make an informed decision that will impact your mental health:

  • Be aware of what is necessary to take care of a service dog. Sometimes owners are not aware of what it takes to care for a dog and end up abandoning them within months.
  • Assess your time and availability for caring for a dog. While there are service dogs trained to support people in need of emotional support, some choose to adopt a dog from a shelter and train them at home. On average, a dog requires two hours of your attention and time each day.
  • Learn about different dog breeds. You'll learn how their differences play a role in how you care for them and how you care for yourself. Breeds vary by energy levels and personalities. Doing your homework about breeds will help you select a dog that suits you.
  • Review your finances. Dogs require support such as food, vet bills, training, accessories, treats, and so on. Check your finances to make sure you can meet their financial needs. They depend on you as much as you will depend on them.

Your doctor or mental health specialist may provide additional insight into how a service dog will help your situation. Talk to them about what you want to improve when considering your mental health and how a service dog may help with setting and achieving your goals.

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Whether you have a pet dog or want to obtain a service dog, they provide valuable emotional benefits when improving mental health and coping skills for depression. A service dog is trained to provide emotional support to humans and encourage living productive daily. Service dogs may ease symptoms of depression by encouraging daily routines, healthy habits, regular exercise, and calm comfort. They provide unconditional love and friendship and help humans focus more on personal needs. If you don't need a service dog, you can still adopt a family pet that is sure to promote happiness in your life.


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