Difference Between Emotional Support Animals & Psychiatric Service Dog

Animals have been of much assistance to humans since the beginning. Especially dogs have been close to humans from an early age. That assistance from animals has increased by a lot. From helping in rounding up a farmer’s livestock to sniffing out the criminals for police, dogs have proven to be of a lot of help. Emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs are two categories of the assistance provided by dogs and other animals to humans. Although they seem very similar, they have pretty significant differences according to law.

Emotional Support Animal or ESA

Animals that help patients in the treatment of particular psychological conditions are termed emotional support animals. They are involved in the treatment to reduce the symptoms of psychological disorders. The physical affection that they provide to the person, along with other playful activities, plays an important role in the treatment. So, a person having a mental condition can get help from an ESA. According to Fast ESA Letter, a person having an ESA letter can live with his ESA even in a building where pets aren’t allowed.

Psychiatric Service Dog or PSD

The dog that helps a mentally disabled person with daily activities and makes the person’s life easy is a psychiatric service dog. These dogs behave much better than normal pet dogs as they are specially trained to perform specific tasks and behave well in social situations. As the service dogs are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most no-pet policies and other similar restrictions do not apply to them. So, if the person has a mental illness that affects their ability to perform daily tasks, they can use a psychiatric service dog. Some examples of PSD’s tasks are:

  • Remind the owner to have medicine
  • Interrupt negative actions scratching, self-harm, etc.
  • Interrupt oversleeping
  • During a panic attack, orient the disabled person

Difference between ESA and PSD

It might look like both emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs are helping people. Both are helping people, but the way of help is very different in both service dogs and support animals. They provide compassion and love, but their main goal is to help disabled people perform daily tasks. No specific training is required for an ESA, but PSDs are specially trained to perform particular tasks. The law also exempts only PSDs from public restrictions for animals.

Pets or even ESAs are not allowed to travel with their owners, but PSDs can travel along with their owners. PSDs have special rights to travel on an airplane, provided that the dog behaves in a suitable manner. ESAs were allowed on flights earlier, but in a recent update to the rules, it is not necessary for the airline to enable ESAs to travel on a flight. They may be entitled to, but it is up to the airlines only to decide whether to do that or not.

ESAs only provide emotional stability and treatment to a person. On the other hand, PSDs help in functional areas of mentally disabled people. Due to this reason, PSDs have special rights which allow them to have access to pet-restricted places.

Emotional support animals are allowed in houses even with pet restrictions because of Fair Housing Act (FHA). An ESA letter which is a prescription of therapeutic assistance can be presented to the house owner to allow the pet to live with the person. But they don’t have access to public accommodations such as hotels. PSDs have access to almost all public accommodations, including hotels.

Can an Emotional Support Dog be turned into a PSD?

How to make my dog a service dog? This is a common question asked by many ESA owners. As there are many limitations to an ESA, if a person feels the need and is eligible for a PSD, an emotional support dog can be turned into a psychiatric service dog. If your mental condition doesn’t require your dog to perform specific tasks to support you, you might need just an ESA. But if you need your dog to perform specific tasks for you that you can’t do because of a disability, then you require a PSD.

How to turn an ESA dog into PSD?

You can overview your situation and get yourself accessed by a licensed healthcare professional for eligibility for a qualifying mental disability under ADA and ACAA(Air Carrier Access Act). Your chosen healthcare professional can provide you with a PSD letter. The next thing you need to do is to train your dog to behave well in public places and perform tasks required by you for your disability. You can prepare the dog yourself or get professional help for the training. Once the training is done, be sure to test your dog in public places like parks, malls, etc., to be sure that the dog can be controlled in such busy sites.

Can someone verify if a dog is ESA or PSD?

Depending on the situation, there are different ways a third party can verify your dog as an ESA or PSD. The working staff in a public place is allowed to ask only 2 questions:

  1. Does your disability require a psychiatric service dog?
  2. Which tasks can be performed by the PSD?

Other than these two questions, they cannot ask to watch the PSD perform a task or ask any other question about the disabled person’s disability. A PSD doesn’t need to wear a vest, an ID, or anything specific. The owners by themselves can decide to use these items to make it easy in public places to represent their dog as PSD.

Although both ESA and PSD help their owners in the treatment of anxiety, phobias, and other psychiatric conditions, there is a significant difference in their method of providing support. PSDs provide comfort by performing activities for mentally disabled people to improve their mental condition or prevent a mental breakdown. Whereas ESAs provide support through their love and compassion for the person.

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