Can my ESA Become a Psychiatric Trained Service Dog for Airline Travel?

soldier and black dog cuddling

Yes, with proper training your ESA can become a Trained Service animal allowing your animal to travel in cabin free of charge. There are no certification requirements. Airlines cannot deny your service animal based on breed but they are allowed to restrict service animals to Dogs and deny boarding based on behavior.
Airlines recognize only Dogs as Service Animals.

What is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Trained Service Animal?

Emotional support animals (ESAs) and service dogs both provide companionship as well as assistance for people with disabilities. Both are defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The primary difference is that ESAs do not have to undergo the extensive training that service dogs do. There is no standardization of training of emotional support animal training as there is for Trained Service Animals under Title II of the ADA.

A service animal is an animal that has been individually trained to perform tasks for a person with disabilities, such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair or alerting an owner of a seizure or panic attack.

Service animals can be any species of mammal – dog, cat, horse etc.; however, for Airlines, the service animal must be a Dog

What is a Psychiatric Service Animal?

A Psychiatric Service Animal is a one specifically trained to help an individual living with a mental illness. A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is an animal, usually a dog, specifically trained to support individuals diagnosed with a mental illness.

A well trained PSD is able to ease symptoms caused by the mental disability and can comfort their handler in times of distress. In some cases, a Psychiatric Service Dog can be trained to sense the onset of psychiatric episodes and alert their handler.

PSDs may also help with everyday tasks, such as reminding their owner to take medication or helping them stay in touch with reality during hallucinations.

What Psychiatric Disabilities Can a Service Dog Assist with? According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these dogs must assist their handlers in completing tasks that directly relate to their disabilities including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Phobias that significantly interfere with routine life.
  • and others.   

If you are seeking a Psychiatric Service Animal to help provide emotional support for your anxiety or depression, it may be possible that the animal can become certified as a psychiatric service dog. The process involves training for your specific psychiatric disabilities.

See How to Book Your Pet to Fly In Cabin.

What are the benefits of having a PSD for your mental health? 

Having a PSD can be enormously beneficial to your mental health. This is because PSDs are trained specifically for their owners and these animals help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD as well as other disorders by providing comfort, companionship, recognition of triggers and provide guidance for their owners.

For example, they may bring you medication or remind you when it’s time to take them which helps people with memory problems like Alzheimer’s disease.

Further, a trained service Dog is allowed by most airlines to travel with their owner in cabin for no additional cost and without a carrier.

What Training is Required for Compliance with the ADA?

You can train a Psychiatric Service Animal, but most are trained by professional.

Training your PSD can take a lot of time and patience, but it is possible! Make sure you have the right training equipment, find someone experienced in animal behavior/training if needed, practice often, train daily for short periods of time (15-20 minutes). It takes a lot of work.

Each dog has different levels of skill and understanding when it comes to learning what their handler needs. Some dogs are very intuitive, while others might need several training sessions before mastering the tasks they must perform for their handlers.

All PSDs must have the following basic skills and training:

  • A PSD can Interrupt panic/anxiety attacks
  • Use pressure and tactile stimulation to calm the handler
  • Remind you to take your medication
  • Interrupt, redirect and prevent destructive behaviors by reorientation you during a panic or anxiety attack and acting as a physical buffer in crowded areas
  • Waking you up so they do not oversleep

Is There a Registry or Certification for Service Animals?

No. There is no official, no US Government Registry or Certification, for Service Animals or Emotional Support Animals. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require any registration or certification for Service Animals/Dogs. Psychiatric Service Dogs can accompany their handlers unmarked and without any id or paperwork.

However, some handlers find it reassuring to register their Service Dogs and to purchase a vest and id. It helps them to communicate that their Dog is, in fact, a working Service Dog and their rights should be respected.

What are the costs of Owning and Training a Service Dog?

The cost of owning a Service Animal can include the price of the animal. There are expenses beyond purchasing such as feeding and veterinary care that often adds up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year depending upon your location in relation to where you live.

What Breeds are Best for Training as a Psychiatric Service Dogs?

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Border Collies
  • Poodles
  • Golden Retrievers

These breeds share traits, such as high levels of trainability, desire to please, intense focus, and generally good temperament. Dogs with these characteristics usually do well in training and are able to form a strong bond with their handlers.

First 10 Steps when Training a Service Dog
Nate Schoemer-YouTube

Flying with Service Animals

Airline regulations have been changed to allow all types of service dogs on flights. While the DOT prohibits airlines from restricting certain breeds, they can still refuse boarding if a dog is acting aggressive or disruptive.

Further, during your flight, the airline can require the service dog be harnessed, leashed or tethered at all times, even if such items would interfere with the service animal’s work or the passenger’s disability prevents the use of these items.

International Flights from/to the EU: Your Service Animal must be Professionally Trained to be Recognized.

In the EU and specifically, Lufthansa, British Airways, and Austrian Airlines, your Service Dog cannot be Self-Trained.  You must submit a Certificate/Document issued by a Training Facility or Trainer who specializes in by regulation of European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC). The Facility or organization must be accredited by ADI/ADEu/IGDF.

Can an airline deny my service dog to board my flight?

The DOT gives airlines three methods to use in determining whether someone is travelling with a true service animal.

These are the three ways the airline’s staff can verify your canine companion is a service dog:

1. Asking whether the animal is required to accompany the passenger because of a disability and what work or task(s) the animal has been trained to perform.

It’s important to note here that service dog owners have a right to a certain degree of privacy. Airline staff cannot make specific inquiries about your disability or ask that you have your service dog demonstrate the task it has been trained for.

2. Observing the Behavior of the Dog.

Airline staff are trained to know differences between pets and service animals. They will observe the general behavior of the service dog to see whether it remains under the control of its handler.

A service dog can be barred from a flight if it is out of control, barking or growling repeatedly at other passengers or animals, biting, jumping on or causing injury to others, or urinating or defecating in the cabin or gate area.

3. Airlines are permitted to deny transport to a service dog if it:

  • Violates safety requirements – e.g., too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin
  • When the Dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others
  • Violates health requirements – e.g., prohibited from entering a U.S. territory or foreign country.

Airlines may also deny transport to a service dog if the airline requires completed DOT service animal forms, and the service animal user does not provide the airline these forms.

(1) a U.S. DOT form attesting to the animal’s health, behavior, and training.

(2) a U.S. DOT form attesting that the animal can either not relieve itself or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner. if the Dog will be on a flight that is 8 or more hours.

Is there a Registry for Service Dogs?

No. There is no official, no US Government Registry or Certification, for Service Animals or Emotional Support Animals There are many online companies that will give you a Certification for a fee. They are fake and that certificate has no credibility.

Airlines do not accept a certificate for qualifying as a service dog. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal. Do not waste your money.

Does my Dog need a Special Vest/ Jacket or ID?

No. However, a vest or jacket that states your dog is not a pet and not to approach, pet or offer treats to your service dog can help.

Can an Airline Deny my Service Animal Access to a Flight?

Yes, Airlines only accept Dogs as service animals on flights. They can request a DOT form, observe your dog’s behavior and demeanor and ask what work or task(s) the Dog has been trained to perform. Also, if the Dog is too large to accommodate in cabin.

The EU also restricts Service Animals boarding flights to animals that are professionally trained.

You must show Certification from a professional Trainer or Training facility.  At time of this article, Lufthansa, British Airways, and Austrian Airlines are enforcing this regulation of European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC). The Facility or organization must be accredited by ADI/ADEu/IGDF.

Can an Airline Deny My Service Dog based on Breed?

No. Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type.

Can My Insurance Help Pay for Training My Dog to be a Service Dog?

Medicaid and Medicare do not cover the costs of obtaining or caring for a service dog. You can use your SSI or SSDI income to pay for your animal. Also, the Veteran’s Administration allows for payment of a service dog for Veterans under certain circumstances.

Does the ADA require service animals to be professionally trained?

No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.

Published by Stephanie Fling

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