How People Cope With Service Dogs For Depression

By: Tanisha Herrin

Updated April 27, 2021

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 seek different ways to help them cope, including incorporating various 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 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 visual or deaf people, 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 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 can make daily living difficult. Many people struggle with feelings like 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 that people with dogs are more active daily and walk at least 30 minutes a day on average than people without a dog. Exercise can improve anyone’s mental health, but it can be especially helpful for people battling anxiety, ADHD, and depression. Exercise is great for mental health because physical activity gets your blood pumping and promotes the production of feel-good hormones in the brain; unfortunately, however, depression can make it difficult to find the motivation to exercise. But having a service dog can motivate you to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and also help boost your mood.

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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 just like human friends do. 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 because having a pet to care for can help you remember to get things. As you care for your pet and increase your sense of purpose, structure, and responsibility, you can build good mental health and self-esteem.

4. Reduce anxiety and stress. Having a furry friend can increase your happiness and help you feel less alone. This can increase your confidence and decrease your depression symptoms as you find joy and companionship in the presence of your pet. Trained service dogs may also be able to warn you when they sense an anxiety attack.

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 always cover them, and they require time, attention, and money. It’s also important to know that 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 everyone may not need a certified service 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 a certified service dog. Working with certain breeds is easier than others. Labradoodles and golden retrievers are known for being calm, patient, and friendly, so these breeds may be especially helpful as service dogs, whether they are professionally trained and certified or not.

Other Things To Consider About Service Dogs

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 abandon them within months.
  • Assess your time and availability for caring for a dog. While service dogs are 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 attention and time each day.
  • Learn about different dog breeds. You'll learn how their differences play a role in caring 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 a certain amount of financial support; for example, you will need to provide for their 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 set and achieve 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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