The Difference Between Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Nov 02, 2023

The Difference Between Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

When it comes to assistance animals, there are often misconceptions about the different types and their roles. Two common terms that are often used interchangeably are psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals. While both provide valuable support to individuals with mental health conditions, there are distinct differences between the two.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are highly trained animals that assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities. These dogs are specifically trained to perform tasks that mitigate their handler's disability and help them function in their daily lives. Unlike emotional support animals, PSDs are recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which grants them certain legal protections.

Some of the tasks that psychiatric service dogs can be trained to perform include:

  • Alerting their handler during a panic attack or anxiety episode
  • Providing deep pressure therapy to alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • Interrupting self-harming behaviors
  • Retrieving medication or other necessary items

These tasks are specifically tailored to the individual's needs and are intended to help them manage their condition and lead a more independent life.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals (ESAs), on the other hand, provide comfort and companionship to individuals with emotional or psychological conditions. Unlike service dogs, ESAs do not require specialized training and can be any type of animal, including dogs, cats, or even birds. While ESAs do not have the same legal protections as service dogs, they are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which allow them to accompany their owners in housing and travel situations.

ESAs provide emotional support through their presence and companionship, which can help individuals with conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, they are not trained to perform specific tasks like service dogs.

Legal Protections

As mentioned earlier, psychiatric service dogs are recognized as service animals under the ADA, which grants them access to public places and other accommodations. This means that PSDs are allowed to accompany their handlers in places where pets are typically not allowed, such as restaurants, stores, and public transportation.

Emotional support animals, on the other hand, have more limited legal protections. While they are allowed in housing and on flights, they may not have the same access to public places as service dogs. It's important to note that the rules and regulations regarding ESAs can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific situation.


Understanding the difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals is essential to ensure that individuals with mental health conditions receive the appropriate support and accommodations they need. While both provide valuable assistance, the training, legal protections, and tasks performed by these animals differ significantly. Whether it's a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animal, these animals play a crucial role in improving the lives of those with mental health conditions.