For those with mental health or physical disabilities, a service dog can be an absolutely life-changing experience. Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) in particular, are service dogs that are trained to perform tasks that can mitigate the symptoms of mental health disorders. This can include things like retrieving medications on a set schedule, helping their handlers find the exit in a new, stressful environment, or even calling for help when needed!
When many people think of animal companions that help out those with mental health disorders, their first thought is emotional support animals (ESAs). While these animals can provide huge benefits, service dogs go a step further. Because they perform specific tasks, often outside of the home, they’re granted more legal rights than ESAs, including public access. This means they’re allowed to accompany their handlers in almost any public space needed, including grocery stores, offices, and even airline cabins!
As helpful as a service dog can be, it’s no secret that they can be challenging to obtain. Insurance will rarely cover the cost of a service dog, no matter how necessary they are, and the cost for a trained PSD can be as high as $50,000. While some organizations will offer low or no-cost options, the waiting list can be multiple years – which just isn’t feasible for many of those in need of help.
However, there’s a great alternative – training your own PSD through affordable, accessible online courses. Unfortunately, there are some less-than-legitimate options on the market – but there are also some incredible courses that can help you easily train your pup for a fraction of the cost of in-person training methods. We’ve analyzed all the service dog training programs available online and narrowed it down to the 5 best, most trustworthy options. That way, you can feel confident in whichever you choose – and start getting the support you need as soon as possible.
A service dog is any dog that is specifically trained to perform at least one task to help someone cope with the symptoms of a diagnosed disability. While many people may jump to thinking of things like guide or mobility dogs that help those who are blind or have partial sight, there are many other types of service dogs as well.
For instance, a psychiatric service dog can perform several tasks that can help those with mental health issues experience great independence and security. These PSDs can help ground their handler during a flashback or panic attack by performing Deep Pressure Therapy, can wake them during night terrors, or even stop self-harming behaviors.
Since they’re deemed medically necessary, these dogs are granted public access so that they can accompany their handler nearly anywhere they need support. They’re even allowed to ride for free in an airline cabin with their human!
There are multiple ways in which a PSD can benefit their handler, including:
Anyone with a diagnosed disability may qualify for a service dog, and those with a diagnosed mental health disability can qualify for a psychiatric service dog, specifically. These can include conditions such as:
If you’re diagnosed with a mental health disorder, don’t hesitate to consider training your own PSD. You deserve the very best support possible, and for many, a PSD is exactly that.
A service dog training program is an online resource that helps you train your own pup to be a service dog. Typically, these cover basic obedience as a foundation, and then build on that, helping you learn how to train your dog to perform specific tasks to help with any symptoms you may experience, like disorientation or flashbacks. These are excellent options for those who are looking to get a service dog without a long waiting list or having to pay tens of thousands of dollars for in-person training.
When picking a service dog training course, keep these considerations in mind:
When picking our top 5 service dog training programs, we kept all the above criteria in mind – so you can feel confident in any of our choices!
Our absolute favorite pick for the best service dog training program is from Dog Academy. This course has been carefully crafted with their AKC-certified trainers who have more than 25 years of professional experience. Even better, the course has been fully vetted and approved by Linn Boyke, the internationally-renowned Dog Psychology Specialist.
While you may assume working with such experienced trainers would cost you a bundle, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Their course comes in at under $350, which means they cost 95% less than comparable in-person training programs.
Their PSD course uses only positive, reward-based training techniques which work with your pup’s psychology. Not only is this training technique more effective, but it encourages a strong, trusting, lifelong bond between you and your dog – which is incredibly essential when you’re training a PSD. It also works well for beginners, since it covers foundational techniques and breaks down every training task into clear and actionable steps. However, it’s also rich enough to appeal to even the most experienced dog trainer.
They also have an outstanding legal and customer support team (and every member of their customer support team has experience training dogs as well!). Plus, they have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, have a nearly 5-star rating on Trustpilot, and have helped more than 10,000 pup parents train their dogs! The only potential con we found is that they offer enough courses that it can be hard to decide if you may benefit from an additional course as well – but this can be as much of a positive as a negative, and their customer support will help you figure out what is right for you.
Coming in close behind Dog Academy is US Service Animals, another solid, trustworthy company you can feel confident in choosing to help train your PSD. While the legal landscape around service animals can be confusing, US Service Animals was founded by lawyers, so every step of the process is legally valid. It also means their legal support cannot be beat!
Like Dog Academy, they also utilize a positive, reward-based training method, and their course is designed to be both accessible to new trainers as well as detailed enough for those who have some experience under their belt. They’re also an excellent value, have an A+ rating with the BBB, and have an average rating of 5.0 with Trustpilot.
If you do run into any issues, their customer support team is one of the friendliest and most helpful around. Plus, if you decide an emotional service animal is more up your alley (or if you’d like one in addition to your service animal), they offer legal, valid, and stress-free ESA consultations and prescription letters to those who qualify!
They also have a money-back guarantee, so if you don’t love their training program, your wallet won’t suffer. We did find that they send a significant amount of mailers after you enroll, but that seemed like a small price to pay for the overall quality of their service.
If you’re looking for a medical alert dog specifically, then Service Dog Academy can be a smart choice to consider. They don’t offer programs that train any other type of service dogs (including PSDs), but they do help you train a wide variety of medical alert dogs – including those for diabetes (their main speciality), migraines, POTS, narcolepsy, and A-Fib.
They’ll also help you find a dog that will be an appropriate service dog for you – and they even offer their own puppies. However, these pups are quite expensive, and they make very dramatic claims about how much their selective breeding will impact their ultimate temperament. This is a bit misleading, because while it is likely to influence the pup’s personality, it’s not as much of a guarantee as they seem to claim.
However, the trainers are friendly and positive, and while they often take a long time to respond to questions (due to being run by a small staff), their answers are very helpful and thorough when they do reply. The site can also be a bit dense and hard to read, so it can all be a bit challenging for those new to dog training – but for those who have some experience, this can be a great option.
Also, if you end up really loving training your own service dog, they offer internships to help you become a professional service dog trainer, which means you can help others out as well.
If you need to train your service dog to help with multiple disorders, or if you are looking for very specialized skills, then Service Dog Training School likely has what you’re looking for. In addition to an online PSD training course, they also offer multiple other focused programs, including ones for an autism companion, diabetic alert, or seizure alert dogs. This is incredibly helpful if you have a medical condition that accompanies your mental health disorder, as you can get the skills your service pup will need all in one place.
However, this kind of specialization does come with some drawbacks. The prices on each course vary based on how intensive the training is, so some of the courses are fairly expensive (though still significantly less than purchasing a trained service dog or opting for in-person training). Their courses are also fairly challenging, though they’re laid out in a way that helps them be as understandable as possible – and you’re paired with an assigned trainer who reviews your videos and photos, and gives you tailored advice.
All of their trainers are either certified by the American Kennel Club or are certified as assistance dog trainers by the Canine Behavioral College UK, so you can feel confident in their experience and knowledge. Unfortunately, though, they don’t have much in the way of a legal support team – which is doubly concerning, since there have been issues with airlines refusing to allow dogs trained under their programs to fly in the cabin with their handler. They’re also not as clear as they could be on their site about what is legally required regarding service dog registration, which can be confusing for those new to the space.
If an online program isn’t your speed, then the franchise Hot Dog On a Leash may be more up your alley. Even though a professional trainer does the majority of the work in the program, you’re still heavily involved, which helps you build a stronger bond with your pup. This is important no matter what, but in the case of training a service dog, that bond is absolutely vital.
The program itself can be very effective, and the trainers are all passionate about animals – which comes through in their work and approach. And each service dog training course is tailored toward your own needs – which does mean you won’t have a set price for the program until you speak with them. However, there are some consistently reported problems that are fairly large red flags – including missed appointments, never replying to phone calls or emails, or not sending promised refunds.
In addition to that, they’re often responsive at first, until they get you to sign up for a more expensive course – after which, they may quit showing up to appointments or replying to you. Since they do have multiple franchises, this may not be an issue with every location or trainer – but it’s something you’ll want to be prepared for.
To help make sure you’re fully informed before you dive into a service dog training program, we’ve collected answers to the most important common questions here.
According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, a service dog is a dog that has been specifically trained to perform at least one task to mitigate the symptoms of a disability, including sight issues, mobility issues, or mental health disorders.
Anyone with a diagnosed disability that could be helped by a service dog can qualify. To be diagnosed, you’ll need to either speak with your doctor or with a licensed mental healthcare professional in your state.
Because service dogs are deemed medically necessary, they are granted public access rights. This means they’re allowed to accompany their handlers in most public spaces, including stores, offices, and even in airline cabins (for no charge). Also, they are allowed to live in any housing, regardless of the landlord’s pet policy, and they cannot be charged pet rent, pet deposits, or fees.
While both are deemed medically necessary, a service dog is trained to perform specific tasks to help their handler with their disorder (like retrieving medication or helping them find an exit), while an ESA provides emotional comfort simply with their presence – there’s no specific task they must do. Because of this, only service dogs are granted public access, though both have the right to live in most housing regardless of pet policies.
Yes, because service dogs are legally granted public access, they can fly with you for free in any airline cabin. The only stipulation is the dog must not be aggressive or poorly behaved, and it must be able to resist relieving itself for the length of the flight.
Any breed or size of dog can become a service dog, as long as their personal temperament is well-suited to the training. Service dogs are exempt from breed restrictions set by landlords or public spaces – so all types of dogs are eligible.
Yes, legally, your service dog must be able to live with you in most rental housing, regardless of your landlord’s pet policy. You also cannot be charged any pet fees, pet deposits, or pet rent costs.
No, legally, your service dog requires no tags, collars, leashes, or vests that identify them as such. However, many people still prefer to utilize these to both prevent potential conflicts with business owners, or to make it clear to strangers that the dog is working and shouldn’t be touched or distracted.
Legally, there’s no difference between a psychiatric service dog and a service dog. A psychiatric service dog is simply a specific type of service dog – one that’s trained to help with the symptoms caused by a mental health disorder, like depression, anxiety, or PTSD.
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