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Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVD)

The requirements for Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) flying in the plane cabin under an airline’s Assistance & Service Dog policy, was reviewed in December 2020. Due to ongoing airline, and passenger, concerns regarding the species of comfort animals flying in aircraft cabins (think pigs and peacocks!), an overhaul of the service animal travel policy was implemented. From 1 March 2021, the US Department of Transport (US DoT), under the Air Carrier Access Act 1986 (ACAA), redefined the type of Assistance & Service Animals allowed to fly in the cabin. This resulted in the removal of the special rules applying to Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) when flying in an aircraft cabin. Subsequently, the US DoT declared that ESAs are not Service Animals, and must therefore be subject to standard airline pet travel policies. On the other hand, Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) have been cleared to fly under airline service animal policies on flights to and from the US. A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSVD) can be any dog breed, but they must be trained to carry out a specific task, or tasks, for the wellbeing of their owner. Whereas, ESAs aren’t trained to perform a task for their owner’s benefit. The US DoT recommend that airlines permit Psychiatric Service Dogs on flights to and from the US. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) aren’t permitted by pet friendly airlines on any other routes, including flights to and from the United Kingdom (UK), and EU member states, such as France, Spain, Portugal and Germany. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know for flying with a PSVD in the cabin in 2022, including the training required, and permitted breeds.

flying with psychiatric service dogs airline assistance dog in cabin US UK Europe training tasks permitted breeds

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSVD)?

PSVDs are defined under the US Department of Transport (US DoT) Air Carriers Access Act 1986 (ACCA) as:

A dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.  

The EU also states that:

A Psychiatric Service Dog is, by definition, a Service Dog that is oriented towards the care of a person’s mental and psychiatric disabilities. Psychiatric Service Dogs are treated in the same way as other Service Dogs who are individually trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of a qualified person with a disability. Carriers are allowed to restrict service animals to dogs, which is actually recommended in the US DoT recommendation text.’

The definition of any Service Animal is:

  • A dog, regardless of breed or type
  • That is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability
  • Including a visual, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
  • Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, and service animals in training are not service animals. 

Consequently, pet friendly airlines now no longer permit Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), and only dogs can fly as service animals.

Are Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) recognised in Europe?

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) are only accepted by pet friendly airlines on flights to and from the US. Therefore, if you’re travelling to the EU with a PSVD from the US, your dog can travel in the cabin free of charge. But, once you’re flying within Europe, or any other worldwide destination, your dog will have to travel under the airline’s standard pet policy for any flights that are not to the US.

Following Brexit, the UK is no longer a member of the European Union (EU), but it is, of course, still on the continent of Europe. However, special laws apply when travelling to the UK with a Service Dog.

Flying to the UK with a Service Dog

The United Kingdom (UK) has strict rules regarding the entry of Assistance & Service Dogs. All Assistance & Service Dogs flying to the UK must be trained and certified by an organisation that’s a member of either:

  • Assistance Dogs International (ADI)
  • International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF)

Therefore, if your Psychiatric Service Dog doesn’t meet this requirement, they must fly to the UK under an airline’s standard pet travel policy. Only trained and certified Assistance & Service Dogs can fly to the UK in the passenger cabin of commercial airlines, all other pets must fly with a pet cargo courier. Pets can’t fly to the UK in the cabin, or as checked baggage in the hold, only as cargo.

Will my PSVD Be Allowed on Non-US Connecting Flights?

Be aware that your Psychiatric Service Dog is usually only allowed on direct international flights to and from the US.

Booking a Flight for Your PSVD

Most airline pet travel policies allow Psychiatric Service Dogs to fly in the cabin free of charge on flights between Europe and the US. The current US DoT ruling requires passengers with a mental or psychiatric disability, who are travelling with a Psychiatric Service Dog, to complete the Service Dog Request Form, then submit it to the airline.

The US DoT Service Dog Request Form certifies that the Psychiatric Service Dog:

  • has received training
  • is well behaved
  • is healthy

The form must be submitted to your airline up to 48 hours before departure. Airlines are also asked to provide passengers travelling with a PSVD with the same comfortable check-in benefits available to other passengers, such as online check-in.

Long International Flights with a PSVD

In addition, for flight durations of eight hours or more, the US DoT recommends that airlines ask for a written certificate declaring that the PSVD has been trained to travel for the length of the flight without requiring a bathroom break.

Rules for Flying with a PSVD

While Psychiatric Service Dogs can fly to and from the US under an airline’s Assistance & Service Dog policy, they still have to adhere to some general rules for travel. To ensure your PSVD is accepted for the flight, you must be certain that your dog fits in the floor space at your feet on the airplane.

It’s not a requirement to carry a muzzle when travelling with a Service Dog, airline’s sometimes request that you have a muzzle to hand on the flight. Should a situation arise in which your dog poses a threat to the safety of other passengers, you’ll be asked to muzzle your dog, otherwise you’ll be denied boarding.

On the flight, your PSVD will sit in the floor space at your feet, they can’t occupy your seat.

The US DoT ACAA allows airlines to have additional safety-related requirements, for example, wearing Service Dog identification, such as a harness or vest.

How Can I Fly with a PSVD to and from the USA?

Under the amendments to the Air Carriers Access Act 1986 (ACCA), airlines are recommended to accept Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) as Service Animals for flights to and from the USA. Note that this is a recommendation, and not a requirement.

In order to fly in the cabin with their owner free of charge, PSVDs must meet the same criteria as Assistance & Service Dogs. Note that the Psychiatric Service Dog rules only apply to flights to and from the USA. You must complete the US DoT Application Form for Service Animals, and send it to your airline to enable your PSVD to be approved for travel.

As well as having to provide authentic documentation that demonstrates your dog is a fully trained PSVD, your dog must also:

  • Comply with all sanitary/hygiene requirements in the departure, arrival and connection countries
  • Be identifiable by a dog tag or harness
  • Remain leashed at all times
  • Not obstruct the aisles inside the aircraft
  • Be well-behaved in all circumstances

You will be offered a seat with the most space possible, but your PSVD may not occupy a seat, and is forbidden from occupying the space near the aircraft’s emergency exits.

Airlines are authorised by the ACAA to deny boarding to any Psychiatric Service Dog that:

  • Violates safety requirements, for example, the dog is too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin
  • Poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others
  • Causes a significant disruption in the cabin or at airport gate areas
  • Breaches health requirements for the USA or the destination country

Psychiatric Service Dog Task Training

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSVDs) can be trained to perform a wide range of tasks for their owners, because as we all know, dogs are remarkable!

The US Department of Transportation requires adequate training of the Psychiatric Service Dog, but does not define criteria relating to:

  • who should perform the training
  • how the training should be done
  • what the training should contain

Therefore, according to US DoT, the training may be done by the dog handler themselves, provided that the training and success of the training is tested and confirmed. However, it is to be expected that standards relating to this training will be defined sooner or later.

PSVD Categories

The jobs that a PSVD can undertake in order to keep their owner safe fall under four main categories:

  1. Assistance in a Medical Crisis
  2. Treatment Related Assistance
  3. Assistance Coping with Emotional Overload
  4. Security Enhancement Tasks

Psychiatric Service Dog Duties

Within the four categories of Psychiatric Service Dog there’s a myriad of duties that a PSVD can undertake. Duties carried out by a PSVD can be:

  1. To retrieve medication from a small canvas bag or cupboard for their owner if they are unable to do so, or even to take a beverage to enable their owner so that they can swallow their medication. Medical crisis tasks could also be taking an emergency phone to their owner, answering the doorbell using a tug strap, or calling emergency services.
  2. Reminding the owner to take medication at certain times of day, waking them up if necessary.
  3. Licking the owner’s face, or nudging with their nose, to bring them to full awareness when the dog senses that they are struggling to cope. The PSVD might also be trained to perform Deep Pressure Therapy when their owner is having a panic attack.
  4. Operating light switches and floor lamps, or alerting owner to a possible intruder.

Psychiatric Service Dog Breeds

With the right training, all dogs are capable of learning new tasks and becoming PSVDs. So really the best dog breeds for PSVDs depends on the individual who will be partnering with the dog.

Some people may prefer a larger dog breed as a PSVD in order to feel more secure or to help with balance. While for others, a smaller breed may be more appropriate for their lifestyle and accommodation.

It’s a good idea to write a list of what you want from your PSVD, and work with your specialists to determine the right breed for your personal PSVD. Psychiatric Service Dog Schools tend to use larger dog breeds for training, but they can train any dog from a Maltese to a Great Dane! So speak to trainers about your requirements, as they’ll help you decipher your ideal PSVD breed.

What’s the difference between a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSVD) and an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

Unlike PSVDs, Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are not trained to perform a specific task in aid of their owner’s wellbeing. ESAs, also known as Comfort Animals, are usually the pet of the owner and they aren’t trained to carry out work for an individual’s benefit. The role of ESAs is purely to provide comfort to their owner rather than being task orientated, therefore, unlike PSVDs, ESAs are no longer subject to special rules when flying in the passenger cabin.

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