If you suffer from anxiety or an anxiety-related disorder, you likely know that a well-trained, affectionate and happy dog could raise your spirits and shower you with love even on days when the stresses of modern life seem overwhelming. While you could get yourself a dog by taking a trip to the pound or visiting a local pet store, you may be better off seeking out a companion animal that has been bred and trained to help you cope with your condition. 

A specially trained anxiety service dog may be able to recognize the signs of an impending attack, and then it could fetch your medicine or rush to your side to calm you. Dog is God spelled backwards, which is appropriate because they bring a little slice of heaven into your life. 

Choosing Between a Service and Emotional Support Dog 

If you think that an assistance dog could make your life better, the first thing you will need to do is decide whether a service or emotional support dog would be the best fit. You do not need to concern yourself with therapy dogs as these are assistance animals that are trained to bring comfort to groups of people in places like hospitals, mental health facilities and hospices.

An emotional support dog is a regular dog that provides you with comfort and affection. If you already have a pet dog, the doctor who treats your anxiety can write a prescription that will make your pet an emotional support dog. This means that you will be able to take your dog with you when you travel, and landlords will not be able to refuse to rent to you even if they have strict no pet policies.

A service dog is a very different kind of assistance animal. These are dogs that have received special training to help a person with a disability or mental health issue like PTSD or anxiety. The guide dogs used by the blind are the most well-known kind of service dog. The training these dogs receive is intense and can last as long as two years, and only a select few actually make it all the way through. 

Dog owners who want to bring their pets into restaurants or other places that they would not usually be allowed to take them sometimes simply buy a service dog harness, but this is against the law and could get you into big trouble. 

How a Service Dog Could Help You to Cope With Anxiety

Researchers identified what is known as the “pet effect” decades ago, which is why support animals have become so popular with people who sometimes need a little help to get through the day. While any pet can touch your heart and fill your home with life, a trained service dog can do much, much more.

Time to get up: A service dog that has been trained to recognize the symptoms of anxiety or depression will know when you want to stay in bed and avoid the world. When they realize that you need a little nudge, they will gently but persistently nuzzle you to encourage you to get up and face the day. A service dog can also fetch your medicine, bring you a drink and give you deep pressure therapy during an anxiety attack.

I must protect my human: An adorable dog is a major league attention getter, which may not always be a good thing for people with anxiety issues. A service dog will know when you are feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed, and it will use its body to shield and protect you. However, it is trained to know the difference between discomfort and danger, so it will not growl at or bite somebody who doesn’t pose a legitimate threat.

Cut it out: You may not realize that you are about to have an anxiety attack, but your service dog will. It will be on guard around the clock watching for anxious behavior like nail biting, hair pulling or leg bouncing. When it sees that you are in trouble, your service dog will interrupt the behavior and help you to calm down.

Time to go: Anxiety attacks often happen at the worst possible moments. If you ever run into problems while you are out with your service dog, it will take charge of the situation and guide you to a quiet place so you can relax and gather yourself.

How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety

There are many ways to get an anxiety service dog. Here is a guide to four main ways people go about it:

  1. Adopt from a Reputable Breeder (The Best Option)

As you can probably tell, a lot goes into breeding and training any service dog. Adopting one from a reputable breeder is the most highly recommended route, and it gives you the best chance of ending up with the best-suited dog for anxiety. Additionally, adopting your canine from someone who lent their expertise in stringently training it to this specialty allows you to control as many of the elements of their upbringing and training as possible.

Breeders with good reputations make sure any puppy or adult dog that is eligible for adoption has been properly vetted genetically. They will also extensively test their breeding dogs for overall health by the guidelines of the AKC and through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. They also ensure that their litters of pups are thoroughly socialized.

  1. Get One through a Program

The most well known ways for getting an anxiety service dog is through programs that provide fully-trained service dogs to people with disabilities. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of these programs existing for anxiety service dogs. 

Once you go through the vetting process, most programs for psychiatric service dogs are local and have long waitlists; waitlists are often lengthy, too, and you could be waiting up to two years for your dog. Although many of the programs grant dogs to applicants without charge, some can charge up to $10,000. 

  1. Purchase from a Professional Trainer

Another way to get your dog is to purchase one from a professional who trained the dog to help with owner anxiety. Average fees for this route range from $8,000 to $20,000. Although there are some trainers in this market who are legitimate, you will need to be aware of scammers in this market, especially since this is the most expensive option on the list. 

Reputable trainers typically have a Facebook business page with testimonials from former clients and a professional website (said website is not Craigslist, either). Do your due diligence and research with this option so you don’t get ripped off. 

  1. Train Your Own Service Dog

Although it is complicated and challenging, some owners opt to train a service dog for their anxiety themselves. Know this: Breeding a proper service dog is difficult, time-consuming and a big responsibility. Also, consider that you are most likely a novice at understanding the value of good bloodlines and temperament in your dog.

Furthermore, if you adopt from a shelter, the results can be mixed regarding temperament, trainability and more, even for the experts such as the Department of Homeland Security who train their adopted pups to work for law enforcement. That sounds like an awful lot of stress, and isn’t that what you are getting your four-legged companion to help with in the first place?

What Breeds Make Good Service Dogs?

Not every dog has the intelligence, temperament and work ethic needed to be a good service animal. Pure breeds are the best candidates as their personalities and behavioral quirks are quite predictable, but some breeds are more suitable than others.

Labradors: Labs are the most popular service dogs because they usually possess all of the qualities required to make it through the tough training. They are calm, loyal and love to work, and they are possibly the most patient breed of them all.

German Shepherds: While not as popular as Labradors, German Shepherds may be the best service dogs of all. This is why they are chosen for the most demanding law enforcement and military roles. 

However, there is an important caveat to consider. German Shepherds can be anxious themselves, which could be a real problem for somebody that will be in tense situations or needs help coping with stress. This is why the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are very careful about where they get their dogs. Choosing a German Shepherd to help you with your anxiety could be one of the best decisions you ever make, but be sure that you go to a breeder that knows what they are doing and has impeccable references.

Papillons: If you live in a small apartment or do not have the time or energy to give a larger dog the exercise it needs, a papillon could be the perfect choice for you. These little guys are easy to train and want nothing more than to make you happy, but they do have the snappiness that is common to all smaller breeds.

Poodles: These dogs have hair like humans rather than fur, which means that they are ideal service dog choices for people with allergy issues. There are also cross breeds like labradoodles that offer the same benefits.

Choosing the Right Breeder

If you think that a service dog could make your life better, choosing the right breeder will be as important as choosing the right breed. Regis Regal has been breeding German Shepherds for more than 25 years, and we have been named a Breeder of Merit by the American Kennel Club. We are also one of the few breeders that offer West German sieger dogs, which are considered the best German Shepherds for service work. Please call us today at (847) 721-1908  to find out why so many veterans and anxiety sufferers have chosen us to put a little love in their lives.

About Cindy Kelly

I'm the owner of Regis Regal German Shepherds, a small family business located in Spring Grove, Illinois. I've been breeding German Shepherds of sound body and mind for over 30 years and specialize in providing families with loving companion dogs, and dogs for emotional support therapy, for veterans suffering PTSD, and for other special needs. I'm trying to share my extensive knowledge on breeding and training the perfect German Shepherd with the wider community.