I wouldn’t trade my PTSD service dog for anything. He is literally my harbor in the storm of my anxiety and helps me keep my independence.
But life with a psychiatric service dog is not all sunshine and roses, even though it is filled with kisses and wagging tails! There are some serious cons of a psychiatric service dog that no one talk about.
But I’m going to spill them all, so buckle up and get ready to hear the dirty secrets about service dog life.
If you’re joining me for the first time, hello! My name is Krystian, and I am a psychiatric service dog consultant with a degree in dog training and a self care coach for anxiety. I help you get answers to your questions about living with a psychiatric service dog and care for your anxiety, one day at a time. And I have lived with a psychiatric service dog in my life since 2007.
I’m going to walk you through my experience with my psychiatric service dog(s), past and present. Enlightening you to the cons of life with a service dog through my own mistakes and experience.
This post includes:
- What is a psychiatric service dog?
- What are service dog tasks?
- Examples of Tasks a Service Dog Can Perform
- Where to find our list of Pros of a Psychiatric Service Dog.
- 10 Cons of a Psychiatric Service Dog That Can Cause a Handler More Anxiety
This list is about the cons of psychiatric service dog and how that affects your anxiety disorder. And at the end, I’ll describe a bonus con of living with a psychiatric service dog. Let’s begin.
What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states, “a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”
That means that a dog must be trained to interrupt, prevent, alert, and respond to a person’s disability with a trained task(s).
A service dog is a trained helper. The dog learns skills called tasks to help with a specific disability.
A dog that provides comfort by it’s presence is an Emotional Support Animal, not a service dog. It does not have the same rights as a service dog. The difference is a service dog is trained to perform the tasks to help the handler, while an ESA is not.
What are Service Dog Tasks?
What are these “tasks” they talk about? A trained psychiatric service dog learns how to perform an action aka task when a trigger (or stimulus) happens or when the handler cues.
A psychiatric service dog learns behaviors to help negate mental health issues.
What task can a service dog perform for anxiety?
Example: I have PTSD. Nightmares and sleep paralysis plague me when I am overly tired, anxious, or depressed. Koda has been taught to react to my thrashing prior to waking with the paralysis. He will come paw at me to wake me, then lick my face to reorient me back to reality while lying on me to perform deep pressure therapy to keep me calm while I wait for my body to catch up.
A psychiatric service dog does not naturally perform a behavior to help you feel better. It is taught to them. Psychiatric service dogs are taught to perform certain behaviors to improve the mental health of their handler.
Examples of Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks include:
- Crowd control and behaviors that give the handler more personal space.
- Blocking so the handler is not bumped.
- Alerting the handler to a presence in the home.
- Fetching items or medication for the handler.
- Alerting a person to a problem with the handler.
- Applying deep pressure therapy when the handler is anxious.
- Interrupting self harmful behaviors.
- Alerting the handler to take medication.
- Fetching water for the handler to take medication.
- And more!
If you want to learn the PROS of a psychiatric service dog, read the post below!
The pros of a psychiatric service dog are pretty good so we gave them their own list! Read this post to see how my life with a psychiatric service dog changed, and what it’s like to live with a psychiatric service dog.
What are the Cons of a Psychiatric Service Dog?
So how can something that sounds great be negative? Like everything in life, there is always bad with the good. And just like life, there are cons of a psychiatric service dog as well.
Life with a serving dog can benefit you greatly, but it also comes with unique challenges. These challenges may be too much for friends, loved ones, and yourself.
Your mental health will suffer if you can’t take the stress that will come with the benefits. So consider these cons carefully with your family and your doctor when you consider life with a service dog. Not everyone can handle the cons of a psychiatric service dog.
1- Caring for a Service Dog May be Difficult
A service dog is just like any other dog, except it needs MORE care, not less. Why? Because of the nature of the work. Going out, walking and working are exhausting on the mind and body of the dog.
As a working dog, your service dog will require additional care to have a long healthy life and career. This level of care may be difficult to maintain, physically, financially, or emotionally making this one of the most important cons of a psychiatric service dog.
Examples of How I Care for My Psychiatric Service Dog’s Needs:
- Twice a year or more, as needed, vet visits to make sure the service dog can continue to work.
- More preventative care like: dental cleanings , nail clips, anal gland expressions, vaccines, and checkups to keep the dog in top shape for the work.
- Pet license to comply with local service dog laws.
- A higher quality food: kibble, raw, and high quality treats.
- Time or money spent grooming the dog
- Continued education for myself and the dog to help keep his training updated
- Toys, games, and activities to stimulate and relax the dog so he can continue working.
- Supplies to protect the dog from the elements: dog friendly sunscreen, boots, coat, etc.
- Supplies for the dog: bowls, leashes, collar, tags, etc.
- Avoiding dog parks to protect the service dog from unsocial and untrained dogs. While still making friends with well mannered dogs so the service dog can learn and play.
When you have a service dog, you will still have to care for it, even on your worst days.
Are you ready to fight your instincts to lay in bed all day and sleep when you’re depressed? What about stay indoors and hide from the world when you’re overly anxious? And when you’re sick, are you ready to get up multiple times a day when your dog alerts or when his needs arise?
No matter how late I have stayed up, my service dog wakes me up when his bladder calls. Yeah, even when I forgot my medication and fall asleep at 3 am. 8 am comes early even when you’re sick or stressed.
If you really need to be left alone for your psychological needs, a service dog will be an annoyance and not a help.
And if you have trained your dog to alert when you are showing specific signs of depression or anxiety, and want to be left alone, are you ready to have a dog pester you? You can’t lay in bed all day and ignore the world with a service dog. They just don’t let you. It’s their job.
A service dog that lays around and has his alerts ignored, quickly learns not to display that behavior anymore. He becomes ineffective. He turns into a pet. Then you have to repeat your training. Do you have the mental and physical energy to practice with your psychiatric service dog?
Life with a service dog is still active, physically and mentally, even when I am staying at home. Caring for the dog is part of what helps me care for myself.
2- Having to Take a Dog with You Everywhere Can Be Exhausting
Are you ready to have a dog with you every moment, in every situation, including sex and dating? Trust me there is nothing more annoying than when you psychiatric service dog is alerting to your elevated heart rate during sex by poking you over and over.
–Yup, Koda does this to me.- Thankfully, my husband has an amazing sense of humor and we laugh about this.
Are you ready to give up those quick trips and quick stops to your local store? Having a service dog can make a 5 minute in and out into a 30 minute + excursion. Yeah. It’s not quick or fast.
Are you ready to make accommodations for your dog in your daily life?
Would you leave your wheelchair at home? No. You either need the dog to negate your mental illness or you don’t. Per the ADA a service dog must be in the control of it’s handler at all times, meaning you can’t leave the dog behind. There are some places a service dog cannot go due to health and safety concerns. Be sure to check out our service dog public access guide for all the details.
Do you want to work with the community, your job, and your family to make your life with a service dog easier? Or are you far too busy for that?
Do you want to take a dog with you on your self care vacation? If you don’t want your dog to accompany you to the hospital, the grocery store, the pharmacy, school plays, etc; then a service dog is not a good fit for you. Your service dog is a working dog and will need to work.
You need to work with hospitals, hotels, businesses, friends, family, and more to accommodate your service dog.
But shouldn’t they have to respect my need for a service dog? Yes, they do. But planning only makes a better relationship and easier access for you and your service dog.
If this sounds like too much trouble, a service dog is not for you.
RELATED POST: What 2 Questions about Service Dogs Can a Business Ask?
Not all lifestyles are suitable for service dogs.
Can you imagine an Olympic athletic having to work around having a service dog? Are your favorite hobbies ones you can take a dog along?
While an actor can have a service dog for daily life, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the dog to be in the film with the actor.
Some lifestyles just are not dog friendly. A few examples: frequent travelers to foreign countries, doctors, anyone working in a kitchen or food prep area, etc. And yes, you can have a service dog for these lifestyles, but will it add stress to your life?
Would a dog impede the services you are trying to provide at your job? Having a service dog in an operating room and other sterile areas is a no-no.
Some service dogs are taught to jump to alert you to distressing symptoms. Can you physical handle a dog’s weight on you? Bumping you until you react appropriately? My dog alerts me to the floor so he can lie on my lap and apply Deep Pressure Therapy. Can you get up off the floor? I’m 38 and some days it’s a lot, especially on a cold, hard grocery store floor. Can you physically handle a dog?
These are all things you need to ask yourself if you can handle before getting a psychiatric service dog.
3- Service Dogs Have Off Days Too…
Your psychiatric service dog will not be 100% perfect. Sometimes they will have their own ideas or they will be sick.
Recently, my psychiatric service dog in training Koda decided he wanted to spin while walking. Yup, he was literally spinning and getting tangled in his leash. He wrapped me up in the leash, and himself, and we looked absolutely insane. Like we had not trained for the past year to go on this outing. He just wanted to play that day. He did not want to work.
I had to scratch my plans that day and go home because he was just not having it.
Too bad if you were going to the walk in pharmacy or the grocery store. You’re going home now.
Your dog will have days where he is sick or tired as well. There are days when your dog is going to have to be at the vet all day for procedures or the groomer because you’re too tired to do it yourself.
Do you have the means to care for yourself mentally on those days?
Do you have a backup plan for these days? They WILL happen more often than you would like.
While psychiatric service dogs are wonderful 98% of the time, that 2% will leave you without a working psychiatric service dog for the day and leave you feeling vulnerable or frustrated.
4- It Takes Time to Get a Trained Psychiatric Service Dog
There are two ways to get a psychiatric service dog. And I’m going to talk about them both.
A Professional Service Dog Training Service
Many companies breed suitable dogs to offer to their clients. They raise them from birth as service dogs. They are socialized and start training from day 1. But it comes with a hefty price tag.
This includes all care and training for the dog during his stay with the company. If you need a multi-purpose dog, you could accrue extra cost. I have only seen fees waived for the serving members of the military.
The Dreaded Waiting List of Professional Services.
I haven’t seen a professional waiting list yet that wasn’t 1-2 years long! If you require a multi-purpose dog, you might wait even longer. Everyone using this service gets put on this list. There is a high demand for well trained psychiatric service dogs.
The wait is about 2 years because they are dedicating 2 years of everyday all day training and socialization to the dog. And that’s if the dog doesn’t wash out of the program.
If they raise their own temperamentally sound dogs for this line of work, and most of them do, you have little to no say in size, color, or breed. You get the dog they have trained for that line of work.
You are required to attend a series of training courses to help you adjust to life with a service dog in person. You handle your meals, accommodations, and such. And that’s weekly for however long the service deems.
You are responsible for travel costs for the trainer and dog to come to your home until they see fit you have graduated from the program.
These programs have a higher success rate because of their strict training, socialization, and intake guidelines for their dogs. But many dogs still fail out of the program because they cannot handle the job.
You can hire a professional trainer to train your dog for you, but you are still looking at thousands of dollars in training fees. More if you want private sessions, and you will probably need them for task training, there will be additional fees.
A service dog from a training company comes with a long wait and is expensive, which is not a good option for someone who needs help today. A service dog is a tool for preventative care.
You can train your own psychiatric service dog
When you train your own psychiatric service dog, the failure rate goes up, unless you are like me and have spent the time getting a dog training degree. Especially if you don’t have the budget to take the appropriate courses to learn to train your own dog.
You have to teach your dog basic obedience, advance obedience, canine good citizen skills, public access skills, socialization skills, task training, advanced leash skills, off leash skills, and more!
And you have to keep up your training for the career of the dog. It’s hard work and not easy if you’re easily overwhelmed.
I have spent over a decade of my life learning to train dogs so I could train my own psychiatric service dog. It takes a lot of time, patience, trial and error to learn the skills needed to train your own psychiatric service dog. And I am still learning every day!
It is a more budget friendly option because once you have learned these skills, you only have to read your training notes from your classes to remember what you did. –Yes, keeping training notes may help you train your next service dog, should you need one. Koda has his own training log to keep track of the hours and training we have done!
However, it is more time consuming overall. You commit to learning how to train dogs, not just how to teach them down, sit, etc. You learn how a dog learns, what motivates them, what to do when your teaching plan fails, etc. It is difficult being the person making all the decisions and doing all the teaching. It’s like being a parent but to an alien. And if your training fails, it’s on you. You have to go back to square one and figure out what you did wrong, because it’s not the dog’s fault. It’s the teacher’s.
A service dog is required to have 300 hours MINIMUM of training doing its public access tasks.
That does not include time spent learning socialization skills, advanced manners, canine good citizen & more.
If you decide to rescue a dog, like I have, you may have to retrain the dog to solve problem behaviors such as non alert barking, digging, anxiety, etc. It took me 4 years to train my previous service dog. And an additional 6 months of training in the middle of his career to retrain him after an injury which almost cost him his career.
5- People May Not Respect Your Service Dog Or You
Be prepared to join the club of frustrated service dog handlers who just want to be left alone. Service dog etiquette is frustrating to say the least. Since the ADA rules are so broad to protect those with disabilities, the public’s perception of service dogs are as well.
And service dog etiquette i hit or miss some days. There are days no one will bother you and it will be a perfect day. And other days you meet every single mean person on the planet.
Cons of a Psychiatric Service Dog When Interacting with the Public (My Own Experiences)
- People trap me in the aisles so they can get a better view of the dog or talk to me about the dog. –As a service dog handler, you will frequently get questions about your service dog and how to get one. And some days you just don’t want to be bothered.
- People talk about me loudly. “Oh look! Wonder what’s wrong with her that she needs a service dog ? She doesn’t look disabled.”
- People ask me what’s medically wrong with me. Please don’t do this if you see a service dog handler.
- Adults will fight with me to pet the service dog, especially if their kids want to pet the dog. Even when told no, people will still try to pet the dog. There are some really nice and respectful people out there as well, but the bad ones will make you want to become a hermit. –While there is no law or rule stating the public cannot pet a service dog. It is just highly frowned upon because it distracts the dog from his job. Your dog is likely to miss alerting if he is being petted. Which in multipurpose service dogs or medical alert service dogs, can be very debilitating to the handler. Which is why most handlers have a no petting policy. It is at the handler’s discretion to allow pets or not.
- I have been physically and verbally assaulted for having a “dog” in a grocery store. No, people do not care it is a service dog. All they see is a dog, especially if it is a tiny dog like Chloe. Yes, this is he reason Chloe’s career was ended. She and I were put into physical danger for being a working team.
- Service dogs are frequent victims of theft. Yes, I have had someone try to steal my service dog from my yard. Thankfully, I was there to intervene.
- People will trap you in or out of your car making it hard to load your service dog. Especially since I don’t have a handicap plate. – As a psychiatric service dog handler with no physical disability, I do not meet the requirements for a handicap plate or tag. To help, I had to put large service dog vehicle stickers on 3 sides of my vehicle and still have to wait for cars to move some days. Parking is hit or miss unless I park WAY at the back of the lot.
- I have lost friends because I was now too much too handle. The service dog drew too much attention to us, they didn’t want to ride with a dog in the car, etc. Can you handle the extra attention to a disability that no one can see? Cause with a service dog, they see it loud and clear.
- Some family members have prohibited my service dog from entering their home during family events. Out of respect, I do not go to their home as ADA doesn’t apply to private property, only public. You may get left out of parties, weddings, etc because of your service dog. Will being alienated make you worse?
- There will be people who bring their untrained dogs or Emotional Support Animals into public spaces where they should not be. -Emotional Support Animals only have housing rights as their presence eases their handlers anxiety or depression. They do not have rights to go to public places. ESA’s are untrained dogs that give their handler emotional support, hence the name. Basic or advanced obedience skills do not make an ESA a service dog. Service dogs that are trained to handle the stress, distractions, and pressures of an active environment as well as alert and respond to the handler as they were trained to do.
You will not go unscathed as a service dog handler. Are you prepared to advocate for yourself and your dog? Do you want to continue to learn ADA policies, protections, and your rights on a regular basis?
As for cons of a psychiatric service dog, this one is the one that will cause you the most stress.
Related Post: Is an Emotional Support Dog the Same as a Service Dog?
6- Not All Dogs Make Good Service Dogs
Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and personalities. Unfortunately, 50-70% of dogs do not have what it takes to be a service dog. And others fail out of the program during the first year of training.
Dogs fail the training program for:
- Aggression of any kind
- Inability to do the Tasks
- Health Problems
- Too Loud
- Too Unruly
- Too Excitable
- Dog gets injured.
- Dog hates the job.
And about 70% of dogs fail out of the program after they start training. Out of 6 dogs that I have trained for this job, only 25% of them have actually worked for my needs and could handle the job. Two of which went onto an early retirement due to issues as a working service dog. Small dogs, while very travel friendly, tend to be seen as pets more often by the public. If you are non confrontational in nature, a small service dog is not for you.
7- Planning Ahead Will Become A New Way of Life For You
There is no spontaneous trips in my life anymore. Doordash, Amazon, and other delivery services are my new best friend because I do not have to pack up to leave. There are NO quick trips when you have a service dog.
While I like to leave the house light (a cell phone, mini wallet, and of course my emergency medical alert card), I need gear and supplies for my service dog.
There is his vest, collar, leash, dog potty bags, a travel mat if he’s laying for too long, and treats for difficult situations. That’s his quick trip supplies! –While a service dog is not required to have a vest or identification, it will make your life as a service dog handler MUCH EASIER!
Our trip to Busch Gardens was a challenge. Not only do I need to plan for the stay overnight, I plan for the pavement temperature, how many people will be there, what he can eat during the day while we are there, how much water to bring, etc.
There are even more challenges the longer we are traveling. From dog friendly stops to hotels with grass, the challenges are never ending when you have a psychiatric service dog at your side.
8- You May Have to Rehome a Dog You Love If He Fails Training
At some point, a dog is bound to fail training. If he is in a professional training program, the dog is adopted out to a family who wants a well trained pet just like a rescue dog would be.
And you, well you have to start the process of matching and waiting for your next dog.
But if you are training your own service dog, you will have to make some difficult choices.
Do you live in an apartment with a no pet policy? (*note: service dogs do not apply to these policies. See the ADA link above for details.) When you service dog in training flunks out of the program, they become a pet. Which is NOT protected under ADA law.
Are you unable to care for another dog other than your service dog?
Do you really want to leave that dog alone while you and your new dog go out training, running errands, and going places a pet is not allowed?
Many owners choose to rehome any flunked dogs as they will do well in a family setting with the training they have received thus far.
I was very lucky to have the opportunity to be a stay at home mom with the funds to be able to properly care for multiple dogs, and was able to keep Mischa after she flunked out of the program. She and retired service dog Chloe absolutely love each other and keep each other company, often sleeping and eating together.
9- Grooming Is Either Time Consuming or Will Cost You Money
Grooming is non negotiable with a service dog. A psychiatric service dog, just like other service dogs, needs to be well maintained.
- Nails need to be clipped and should not clack on the floor so the dog has a comfortable stride.
- Dog should be brushed so loose fur is removed prior to going out on errands.
- The psychiatric service dog should be regularly bathed and smell pleasant at all times.
- The psychiatric service dog’s coat should look well managed.
- And if you don’t want to groom your psychiatric service dog yourself, you’ll pay for it often.
Koda is a husky/ German shepherd mix. Which means some part of his body is shedding. He is brushed before every outing to remove loose fur that may end up on floors. Nobody wants little fur balls on the grocery store floor.
You may have to get your service dog groomed more often than a pet, depending on your lifestyle.
I own multiple dog brushes, dog shampoos, and dog wipes so I can do quick or deep cleans on my current service dog. I also hand file nails to reduce marks from freshly clipped nails. I trim up excessively long booty hairs. I routinely groom my pup to be pleasing to others as well as sanitary.
10: A Service Dog Career Is Short
If you get your dog as a puppy and start training right away, you are starting your dog’s career at about 2-3 years of age depending on your training speed.
Zeak started out as an an emotional support dog to help ease my anxiety at home. Then progressed to psychiatric service dog training after my therapist suggested we add him to my treatment plan. He was 5 when he graduated from training.
While Zeak had an abnormally long career of 12 years (he was 17 years old when he retired), most dogs retire somewhere between 7-10 years of age. That is about 5-7 years. And you should be working on acquiring and training a new service dog prior to your dog’s retirement.
A dog may retire earlier if they lose interest in the work, lose their mobility, or their health becomes an issue. And in extreme cases, the dog’s death cuts the dog’s career tragically short.
Bonus Con: The Death of Your Psychiatric Service Dog (Retired or Active) Will Affect You Deeply
Just a few months after Zeak retired, he tragically passed from a very hard to diagnose tumor that ruptured. He had a clean bill of health two months earlier. It was just that fast growing!
He was happy and active that morning, started tiring in the afternoon, and at dinner I knew something was wrong when he snubbed his food. And would not come snuggle with me. He couldn’t get up to do it.
We ultimately let him go to the Rainbow Bridge as dog’s with his prognosis only live 4-6 months IF they have surgery. They pass within the week if they do not. It is always terminal and he lived a good life. I didn’t want him to spend his last months in pain.
His death absolutely DESTROYED me. Not only did I lose my best friend, I lost a part of my journey and a part of myself.
I kept his collar, seen below, around my wrist for weeks. Yes, weeks. Seeing little bits of his fur, his favorite bed, and his favorite toys kept me in tears for weeks. I have suffered the loss of many dogs before him, but when you lose a pet you loose a companion. When you lose a service dog, it feels like your have lost your life line.
Zeak’s death was in April 2021. There are no words to describe the deep level of grief you have for losing a psychiatric service dog.
Your body, mind, and soul hide from the pain. You are trying so desperately to cope without your support system. He was the dog that first took my pain away and gave me my life back when no one and nothing else had before. And he was gone.
It sent me into darkness. A place I hadn’t lived since 2007 when we had first became a team. I felt like there was no light and no happiness in the world. I wasn’t suicidal. But I couldn’t think. I felt I had died with him. I was just a husk of my normally pleasant bubbly self.
When your service dog dies, you feel unanchored with the world. All that anxiety and depression floods to the surface. For the first time in years, you have to do it all on your own. And it is debilitating. Your mental health can quickly deteriorate, and your may have to increase your treatment plan or spend time in a mental health institute to get back to a happy place again.
Are you ready to tackle these psychiatric service dog challenges?
These psychiatric service dog challenges will make an impact on your mental health and daily life. Weigh them carefully when you talk to your family and mental health team about adding a psychiatric service dog to your life.
For more information about the PROS of a psychiatric service dog, read this article and subscribe! I always release information to my subscribers first!
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