The following is only for air and rail travel within Canada, or international air travel to/from Canada. US-based flyers should review this article.
Recent changes to air travel now allow for Canada psychiatric service dogs (PSD), which are canines specifically trained to support individuals diagnosed with a mental illness by easing symptoms caused by mental disability(s).
A Canada psychiatric service dog is different from an emotional support animal (ESA) and under new Canadian rules, an aircraft with 30 or more seats is obligated under the Air Transportation Regulations to accept an assistance animal for carriage without charge.
It does not matter whether you plan to travel in first, business or economy class. Air carriers are obligated to provide sufficient floor space to permit the assistance animal to remain on the floor at the person’s seat while ensuring that the person and the animal can travel safely and comfortably. Some airlines, such as WestJet, will allow the assistance animal to sit on the owner’s lap for the duration of the flight, provided that it is smaller than a two-year-old child.
Most carriers require 48 to 72 hours’ notice in order to accommodate your and your assistance animal’s needs.
Canadian law defines a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type, individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. Airlines are required to recognize dogs as service animals and accept them for transport on flights to, within and from Canada. Transport can be denied if the service dog:
- Violates safety requirements - e.g., 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; or
- Violates health requirements - e.g., prohibited from entering a U.S. territory or foreign country.
How do airlines determine whether an animal is a service animal?
Airlines can determine whether an animal is a service animal or pet by:
- Asking an individual with a disability if the animal is required to accompany the passenger because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform;
- Looking for physical indicators such as the presence of a harness or vests;
- Looking to see if the animal is harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered; and
- Observing the behavior of the animal.
Travel Documents, Identification and Certification
If your disability is not readily apparent, you may be asked for "reliable" documentation substantiating your need.
Be prepared with the following:
- An identification card for your assistance animal
- Written documentation from a credible association who trained the animal
- Credible verbal assurance from the association who trained the animal
- Carry tags
- A harness
Psychiatric Service Dog Letter of Recommendation
A PDF letter of recommendation from a licensed physician or mental health professional as proof is required. The letter should:
- Be on your attending mental health professional’s letterhead
- Include the type of license held by your mental health professional and the jurisdiction in which it was issued
- Be less than a year old
- State that you are currently under the care of the licensed health professional who prepared the document
- State that you have a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM V)
- State that you require the assistance animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for an activity at your intended destination
- State the task that the animal performs for you when traveling
- State whether you require your assistance animal to travel as a lap-held emotional support animal
Get The Canada Psychiatric Service Dog Letter That Lets You Take Control Of Your Life.
You’re well on your way to getting a legitimate "Psychiatric Service Dog recommendation" from a licensed mental health professional and all done from the comfort of your home.
Eligibility for a psychiatric service dog requires an individual to have a mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Examples of such disabilities include:
- Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Attacks
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Additionally, the PSD’s handler must have a need for a task trained dog to assist with their disability. Providing companionship and comfort is the role of an emotional support dog. This does not qualify as performing a “task on queue.”
No registration, paperwork, or identification is needed. However, a diagnosis of mental illness from a licensed mental health care professional is required.
Tasks On Queue
Differing from an emotional support animal, a Service Animal performs a task on queue, such as:
- Balance Assistance – Providing extra security when walking.
- Ground and reorient – Provide grounding during an anxiety attack
- Interrupt and Redirect – Limit obsessive compulsive and self-destructive behaviors
- Navigation and buffering – A PSD can provide a buffer and help guide their handler through stressful environments.
- React/Alert to specific sounds – Help detect unusual noises.
- Room Search – Helpful for those who suffer from PTSD hyper-vigilance.
- Stabilize routines
- Tactile stimulation and pressure therapy
Professional Psychiatric Service Dog Trainers
Individuals sometimes lack time and expertise to properly train a psychiatric service dog. The cost for training greatly varies, so it’s best to speak with several trainers.
For handlers with an existing emotional animal bond, self-training (which takes a lot of time and care) might be an option. If the psychiatric service dog completes the tasks directly related to the handler’s mental disability, then it does not matter who performed the training.
Psychiatric Service Dog Access Rights
Air travel is allowed and requires PSD owners to submit a signed certification form prior to departure, documenting disability training and good public behavior. Animals who are disruptive or out of control may indicate a lack of training and can be denied entry.
Airlines may also consider paraphernalia such as harnesses, vests, and tags – helpful indicators for owners suffering from invisible disabilities. Accessories alone do not make a PSD – that comes from appropriate training and a disability-related need.
Psychiatric Service Dog and Invisible Disabilities
There are many types of psychiatric service dogs that serve individuals with a wide range of invisible disabilities.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Individuals who have gone thru extremely stressful events may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PSDs can help ameliorate their disabilities by performing tasks on queue such as:
- Block and buffer in crowded areas
- Calming via deep pressure therapy (lying across the handler’s body)
- Interrupt destructive behaviors
- Medication retrieval
Depression Psychiatric Service Dog
Those with severe depression often are home confined, finding difficulty engaging in life activities. With constant negative thoughts and at times suicidal, a psychiatric service dog can help chronically depressed people by:
- Comfort with responsive touch
- Establishing a daily routine
- Get the handler up and about
- Medication retrieval and usage
- Tactile stimulation
Anxiety Psychiatric Service Dog
Those with chronic anxiety know the accompanying excessive uneasiness and apprehension can be debilitating, leading to compulsive behaviors or panic attacks.
Psychiatric service dogs can be trained to help anxiety attacks by:
- Blocking people from crowding the handler
- Deep pressure therapy
- Keeping the person grounded by licking or pawing
- Locating/bringing a telephone
- Impending panic attack recognition
Getting an Emotional Support Animal or Psychiatric Service Dog Letter.
- Review our recommendation process.
- Read our helpful guide for emotional support animals, including our college edition.
- Our ESA pre-qualification tool is a quick and free screening test. For US-residents only.
- We offer a No-Worries Guarantee.
- Careful that you don't buy junk and don't register your assistance animal.
- ESA owners are protected by various federal and state laws.
- If you have a question, check out the knowledge base.