If you have ADHD, a service dog can help you maintain attention, release hyperactive energy, and remind you to take medication.
We usually think of service dogs as being trained to help people with physical disabilities, like blindness or mobility limitations. But service dogs have helped many people with mental health conditions, too.
Dogs that support people with mental health challenges are known as psychiatric service dogs or emotional support animals.
Here is everything you need to know about service dogs and ADHD, including their benefits, how to qualify, and what your other options are.
Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities manage their daily lives. For example, they might alert a blind owner when it’s safe to cross the road, or they may be trained to retrieve medication for a person who has limited mobility.
In some cases, service dogs can help people with ADHD too. That said, there are strict criteria for who is eligible to have a service dog. To qualify for an ADHD service dog, your symptoms must be debilitating. Most people with ADHD are able to live fulfilling and successful lives with other types of treatment, like medication and behavioral strategies.
However, if ADHD symptoms are debilitating, then a service dog may be able to help.
Autistic people and people with severe anxiety disorders often use service dogs. Although ADHD isn’t the same thing as autism or anxiety, these highly-trained animals could help people with severe ADHD in similar ways.
Some of the ways that service dogs can help people with ADHD include:
- keeping the owners’ attention on track
- preventing or stopping meltdowns
- providing an outlet for excess hyperactive energy (dogs need to be walked regularly)
- leading parents to a missing child if a child with ADHD has wandered off
- applying physical pressure to decrease anxiety
- retrieve ADHD medication
Service dogs are a protected service under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). That means that if your dog is trained as a service dog, it will be legally permitted to be by your side in public, even in places that don’t usually allow pets.
Emotional support animals for ADHD
If you don’t meet the criteria to have a service dog, that doesn’t mean that you can’t receive any support from a dog. Many people with ADHD benefit from emotional support animals (ESAs). ESAs are different from service dogs, but may actually be more helpful for people with ADHD in some conditions.
Unlike service dogs, who are trained to help people with disabilities perform specific tasks, emotional support animals provide comfort just by being there. For example, an ESA may not be trained to recognize and apply pressure when someone with ADHD is about to have a meltdown, but their mere presence may decrease feelings of frustration and overwhelm.
It’s much easier to train a dog to be an ESA than to become a service dog. ESAs are trained to support their owner, but service dogs must be trained to be able to provide specific services for any person with the disability they work with.
Technically, any dog can be a service dog if trained correctly. The ADA does not have any restrictions about what breeds can qualify as service dogs.
It’s more important to consider the specific dog’s temperament and training capacity than the specific breed.
Although there is limited to no research on what specific dog breeds are helpful for people with ADHD, some dog breeds that are often used as psychiatric service animals include:
- labrador retriever
- golden retriever
- mixed breeds
- german shepherd
To qualify for a service dog, you must meet specific criteria. According to the Official Service & Support Animal Registration in the United States, these criteria include:
- being older than 12 years old (unless you are using a service dog for autism)
- having a diagnosed physical disability, anxiety disorder, neurological disorder that affects at least one limb, or debilitating chronic illness
- being able to care for a service dog
- being able to independently command a service dog
- living in a stable environment
- having no other dogs in your home
- being able to meet all the dog’s needs
Since ADHD is not a physical disability, does not affect limbs, and is not an anxiety disorder, the only way people with ADHD could qualify for a service animal is by proving that ADHD is a “debilitating chronic illness.”
For most people with ADHD, symptoms are not debilitating. This is especially true if they are receiving ADHD treatment.
If you don’t qualify for a service dog for ADHD, then you may want to consider getting an emotional support animal.
There are many steps involved in getting a service dog for ADHD. Your first should be to talk with your ADHD care provider. They should be able to let you know if they think a service dog would be able to help you with your symptoms, or if an ESA might be a better option.
The next step is to find a dog. Many people apply for a professionally trained dog through professional organizations like Service Dogs for America. But, to qualify under the ADA, your service dog does not need to be professionally trained. You can choose to train your service dog yourself.
The ADA also states that it’s illegal to require specific registration for service dogs. That means you technically don’t need to register your service dog.
But some private organizations, like commercial airlines, might ask you questions to determine whether they recognize your service dog as such.
According to the ADA, staff and employers may only ask you two questions about your service dog:
- “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?” and
- “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”
If you can answer both of these questions adequately, then you and your service dog are protected under the ADA.
Service dogs are highly trained animals who know how to perform specific tasks to help their owner with a disability. If your ADHD symptoms are debilitating, then you can qualify for a service dog this way. But don’t rule out an emotional support animal; they can also help comfort you when your ADHD symptoms are acting up.