It’s possible to have a service dog that can recognize and help with bipolar disorder symptoms? Sure is. Here’s how.
If you are living with bipolar disorder, you may wonder whether a psychiatric service dog may be able to help.
The answer is yes, as long as you’re ready for a large commitment in money, time, and responsibility.
Each dog is individually trained to help with tasks matched to its partner person.
In contrast, a therapy dog or an emotional support animal provides comfort by its presence and is not legally classified as a service animal.
A psychiatric service dog is intended to supplement, not replace, your primary treatment for bipolar disorder.
A service dog for bipolar disorder may also be trained to:
- retrieve medications at scheduled times
- remind you to go to sleep or wake up at certain times
- help calm you or distract you from manic behaviors
- lead you to a safe place
- bring you a phone or even dial 911 on a special K-9 telephone in an emergency
Both the International Bipolar Association and International Association of Assistance Dog Partners describe the many ways a service dog can help you manage your bipolar disorder.
How much does a service dog for bipolar disorder cost?
Service Dog Training School International estimates it may cost $20,000 to $30,000 or more to adopt a trained psychiatric service dog for bipolar disorder in the United States.
There are also additional costs for supplies and veterinary services once you bring your dog home, just like with any other pet. Some service dog organizations like Little Angels offer cost-sharing.
You can also take courses or read books to learn how to train the dog yourself, usually with the help of a service dog trainer.
What are the best breeds for bipolar disorder service dogs?
The American Kennel Club says temperament, training, and the tasks you need assistance with all matter more than the breed.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifies that a service dog may be of any size or breed.
The breeds you will see most often as bipolar disorder service dogs are:
- golden retrievers
- German shepherds
What kind of training is involved for a service dog for bipolar disorder?
There is no official training program for psychiatric service dogs in the United States. The ADA requires only that a service dog be trained to perform a task directly related to a person’s disability, not that the dog goes through a specific training program or certification.
Many organizations and individuals supply service dogs and offer training services.
Because of the extensive training involved, the wait time for a psychiatric service dog for bipolar disorder may be between 2 and 3 years in the United States.
How can I get a psychiatric service dog for bipolar disorder?
In other countries, a good first step is Assistance Dogs International, which describes requirements for “assistance dogs” (as they are often called) throughout the world. Contact emails are included for different global regions.
You can also get your own dog and train it yourself. Some service dog training agencies have programs to teach you how to train your dog.
Training organizations usually require a letter from a licensed mental health professional confirming your diagnosis and that a therapy dog could help.
Bipolar disorder is considered a disability able to benefit from a service dog under the ADA. Though it doesn’t list specific disorders, the ADA broadly defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.”
Also, social media, such as Facebook and Reddit, have groups for people interested in psychiatric service dogs. You can check them out for firsthand accounts of the pros and cons of owning a psychiatric service dog.
A psychiatric service dog can be a big help if you have bipolar disorder — but only if you’re prepared for the considerable amount of time, money, and social interaction the dog will require.
If you think a psychiatric service dog may be helpful for your bipolar disorder, you can talk with your therapist or doctor. Then, you can get in touch with a service dog trainer in your area, and ask them to help you search for the right dog.