Worried about qualifying for service dog.

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Worried about qualifying for service dog.

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Old 04-20-2014, 05:07 AM
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Worried about qualifying for service dog.

Well I'm a college student and I've begun the process of trying to have a Psychiatric service dog awarded to me for my agoraphobia. I'm just worried because, while I know I have agoraphobia I also know other people have it worse than I do.

I get intense chest pain with anxiety attacks while in public, while driving these panic attacks can cause me to shut my eyes or lose focus on the task. I cannot go into crowded areas and even when I am accompanied by another person I get anxiety attacks while out. I largely prefer to say in my home sometimes doing so for weeks at a time.

As I've been getting older I've noticed it getting worse, even going to the grocery store now is terrifying. Still though I'm worried that I won't qualify for the dog because my condition isn't so terrible that I can't leave my house at all, just bad enough that I avoid doing a lot of normal activities because of the anxiety they induce.

So as far as any of you know? How bad does it need to get before I would be a candidate for a service dog?
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Old 04-20-2014, 08:33 AM
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It's not so much a "who has it worse" situation, it's "who will benefit more from having a service dog". While there are some that can't leave their house at all, they might benefit more from in home therapy than they would from a service dog. You're already on the road to recovery by being comfortable enough to leave your house, a service dog will give you the comfort and security to make (for example) going to the grocery store a safer experience.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:28 AM
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Talk to your doctor. It's my understanding that for a psychiatric service dog/emotional support dog, you require a doctor's prescription. There is no governing body that evaluates you or whose criteria you have to meet - if your doctor believes you would benefit and writes a prescription, then it is "bad enough."

I'm pretty sure that there are a number of forums, FB groups, etc specific to service dogs and service dog issues. I'm sure you could find one to help you navigate all of the specifics of the ADA with regards to service dogs. Good luck, I'm sorry you're having such a hard time.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:29 AM
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Welcome to the forum, LianFlower. I know there are a few other agoraphobes here, including myself, so you're in good company. I was training my personal dog for service work but washed him out after a few months due to his own anxiety levels (not excessive, but also not suited to service work). I know @MysticSpiritus is also training a pup to be an SD.

To qualify as legally disabled and therefore eligible for a service dog, you have to be "physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits one or more major life activities (e.g. breathing, walking, seeing, speaking), currently or episodically." If your agoraphobia is coupled with debilitating panic, that would qualify.

The next part is equally important, and it's the part that a lot of people get wrong. A service dog must be specifically trained to perform a task that mitigates one or more of the symptoms of the disability. Comfort, support, grounding, emotional wellbeing and so on do not qualify as service work. SD tasks have to perform a concrete, identifiable behaviors which directly relate to the disability and decrease its severity. In my case, my SD was going to body block me from other humans, interrupt my compulsive self-harm behaviors and lead me to bathrooms (water fountain to take short-acting anti-anxiety meds, bathroom stalls to hide in until the panic stops, easily identifiable smell for the dog to track, the opposite of "public" and "crowded" which are my triggers).

In addition to that, he provides comfort, gives me something productive to focus on, lowers my gaze to floor level because I'm looking at him instead of getting "stuck" looking at the faces of the people around me, allows me to mentally block out negative attention from the public, supports me when I'm anxious, petting him is a grounding exercise, he makes me feel safer and more confident in general, etc. But none of the things in this paragraph qualify as trained tasks, and therefore none of them would qualify as SD work.

It's also extremely difficult to find a psych service dog through a service dog organization if you aren't a veteran with PTSD or a person with autism. If you're getting a psychdog for agoraphobia, expect to either pay for the training from an independent center, or train them yourself. It typically takes one to two years to train a working SD. In many states, a service dog in training (SDiT) is also allowed to accompany their handler in public, but the law varies from state to state and some areas only allow fully-trained SDs to accompany their handlers in public, which makes training your own SD difficult in those areas.
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Old 04-20-2014, 11:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sassafras View Post
Talk to your doctor. It's my understanding that for a psychiatric service dog/emotional support dog, you require a doctor's prescription. There is no governing body that evaluates you or whose criteria you have to meet - if your doctor believes you would benefit and writes a prescription, then it is "bad enough."

I'm pretty sure that there are a number of forums, FB groups, etc specific to service dogs and service dog issues. I'm sure you could find one to help you navigate all of the specifics of the ADA with regards to service dogs. Good luck, I'm sorry you're having such a hard time.
A psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal are very different things. ESAs do require a letter from your doctor to be presented to your landlord (for the rental exceptions) and to the airline (in writing, with at least 48 hours advance notice, for the airline exception). Otherwise, they are normal dogs and do not have public access rights and cannot be taken anywhere that a normal dog can't go. They don't have to be task trained, they don't go everywhere with you -- they're just emotional support and they're only treated differently from a pet in two situations: renting in no-pets housing, and being allowed in the cabin of an airplane. Probably not helpful for agoraphobia that it is triggered by crowds or public places.

A psychiatric service dog must meet the same requirements as a dog for mobility work or a guide dog for the blind. Surprisingly, it doesn't require a prescription from a doctor, although those can be helpful in the case of any legal issues re: access rights if you are ever put in a position where you have to prove that your SD is an SD. They do have public access rights and do need to be task-trained to perform a behavior which mitigates the disability.
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Old 04-20-2014, 12:09 PM
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Ah, thanks. Obviously I was lumping them together, thanks for correcting.
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Old 04-20-2014, 12:42 PM
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@sassafras, no worries! There's just a lot of confusion about those terms, so I wanted to make sure we're all talking about the same thing. Even people who have PSDs or ESAs are often mistaken about the specific differences between them and which one they have.

For example, I used to work with a girl who had an ESA. Her panic disorder fit the legal definition of a disability, so she was "disabled enough" for an SD or an ESA. She swore up and down that it was her right to have her dog with her in public... except the dog (a) had no trained tasks and therefore didn't fit the legal requirements for a service dog, (b) wasn't reliably potty trained, which is acceptable grounds for dismissing even a fully-trained SD from a store, (c) had minimal obedience training and caused a disruption in stores with her behavior, also acceptable grounds for dismissing a fully-trained SD from a store, and (d) had bitten people on two occasions, making her also a liability for both her handler and the stores. But someone sold her a laminated piece of paper that said her dog was a "certified" service dog, and she truly believed that meant that she could take the dog with her everywhere with no other requirements, and she spread misinformation about service dog laws everywhere she went because she herself had been misinformed.

Which reminds me: @LianFlower, run FAR away from anyone who tries to tell you about "certifying" or "registering" your service dog if you live in the USA. There is no legitimate certifying body or service dog registry in the US, and 100% of sites offering to "register" your SD are the scummiest type of predators. They will literally charge you $50 for a laminated piece of paper and outright lie to you about service dog laws. They are the lowest of the low and there is a special place in hell for the people who build a business around an opportunistic, predatory scam like that. Service dogs do not need to be registered/certified, they do not need badges, they do not need IDs, they do not need paperwork. They don't even need the iconic service dog vests, although most handlers prefer to have their dog wear some sort of identifying gear because it's easier than arguing with misinformed people every time you try to enter a store.
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Old 04-20-2014, 01:31 PM
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Thank you all very much, you've been extremely helpful.
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Old 04-20-2014, 08:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LianFlower View Post
Well I'm a college student and I've begun the process of trying to have a Psychiatric service dog awarded to me for my agoraphobia. I'm just worried because, while I know I have agoraphobia I also know other people have it worse than I do.

I get intense chest pain with anxiety attacks while in public, while driving these panic attacks can cause me to shut my eyes or lose focus on the task. I cannot go into crowded areas and even when I am accompanied by another person I get anxiety attacks while out. I largely prefer to say in my home sometimes doing so for weeks at a time.

As I've been getting older I've noticed it getting worse, even going to the grocery store now is terrifying. Still though I'm worried that I won't qualify for the dog because my condition isn't so terrible that I can't leave my house at all, just bad enough that I avoid doing a lot of normal activities because of the anxiety they induce.

So as far as any of you know? How bad does it need to get before I would be a candidate for a service dog?
The only qualifying condition needed for a service dog is a disability, and the only thing necessary for you to claim your animal as a service dog is for him to perform tasks that mitigate that disability (although having a dog that isn't going to ruin the reputation of other service dogs is also greatly recommended.) This disability does not need to be diagnosed by a doctor, though it certainly does not hurt especially if there comes a day where you need to take your employer/school/random company to court for prohibiting you from having your service animal on their property.

While my future service dog is not intended for psychiatric help (mostly intended for carrying things and helping retrieve items and pick things up), he will be providing psychological assistance simply through his presence. I have had issues with social anxiety, depression, and panic attacks in the past, some symptoms of which still persist at low levels. In addition I have had issues managing stress and anxiety levels due to chronic pain, and a canine shoulder to lean on is always appreciated when humans just don't fit the bill. However, this alone is not enough for an animal to qualify as a service dog as they're not performing a task. I would make a list of tasks a dog could help you with that would help your agoraphobia.

For instance:
  • circling you in crowded areas to give you a wider personal distance between other people
  • being trained to do something in the case of a severe panic attack (bring you an item that helps you get through it, lick your face, bring you a dog brush to distract you with a new activity, lay on your chest...)
  • train the dog to act as though he needs to go to the bathroom so that you have an excuse to leave an emotionally/socially overload situation
Here's a quick guide to service dogs, what qualifies one for them, what makes a dog a service animal, and what others are allowed to inquire about them and such.

Interestingly enough, while no doctor certification is required for a service animal, an emotional support animal requires documentation (which is usually received easily enough to my knowledge through any doctor.)

There are organizations that will train a psychiatric service dog for you, a friend of mine works for one in upstate New York. However unless you have a large surplus of money or can get someone to sponsor the training for you, you may want to look into training your own after copious amounts of research into behaviorism. This forum is a great place to look for direction on literature to read, youtube videos, and training advice. That being said, getting such knowledge conceptually is a whole different ballpark than being able to successfully apply the knowledge. Don't jump into anything you do not feel 100% ready for.

Good luck! Feel free to contact me if you ever have any questions or need any insight.
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Old 04-20-2014, 08:31 PM
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Originally Posted by MysticSpiritus View Post
make a list of tasks a dog could help you with that would help your agoraphobia.

For instance:
  • train the dog to act as though he needs to go to the bathroom so that you have an excuse to leave an emotionally/socially overload situation
Small note: This recently showed up in a court case and didn't qualify as a trained task, because it doesn't directly mitigate the disability (the reasoning being, if I remember correctly, that the handler could just as easily pretend that they themselves had to go to the bathroom). It's a useful behavior and I worked on it with my dog when he was in SD training, but it doesn't work as a trained task in and of itself. (So it's fine to do this, but he has to do some other trained task in addition to this -- this can't be his only SD task)
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