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Psychiatric Hospitalizations and Service Dogs

Dog On Floor

Inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations can be frightening and stressful. For Service Dog teams, inpatient admissions are often more of a struggle. The complications of having dogs on a locked unit focused solely on safety and security are innumerable. However, they’re far from insurmountable! Admission with your Service Dog for inpatient psychiatric treatment can be made easier. It just takes a little planning, organization, and forethought.

This is a comprehensive guide to some of the considerations and protocols necessary to successfully integrate a Service Dog into an inpatient psychiatric stay. There is also a downloadable template for administrators and mental health professionals to utilize to develop workable Service Dog protocols and guidelines for their facilities.

This guide is written for:

  1. Individuals who are being admitted for an inpatient psychiatric stay
  2. Administration and staff at behavioral health facilities, hospitals, and psychiatric units

Preparing for Inpatient Psychiatric Stays & Service Dogs

There are many points to consider when preparing to bring a Service Dog on unit, especially for locked units. With some foresight, planning, and proper training, the admissions process can be smoothly handled. For behavioral health facilities and psychiatric units, developing a comprehensive Service Dog plan and list of protocols should be done before they’re necessary so admission can be as stress-free as possible for everyone involved — staff, admin, patient, dog, and the other people on unit. You can download a Service Dog protocol template that can be utilized to develop your facility’s protocol here. 


Laws About Service Dogs and Inpatient Psychiatric Stays

When it comes to the laws regulating Service Dogs and integration into behavioral health facilities, things aren’t exactly cut and dry. Not only are the laws not exactly clear, but many inpatient psychiatric treatment facilities don’t have clear guidelines in place. That makes them more apt to simply deny access, because they don’t know how to best address the matter. However, there are ways to address the common (and legitimate) concerns that could allow a behavioral health facility to legally deny your Service Dog access. Those solutions and compromises will be detailed later.

Federal Laws About Service Dog Access to Hospitals

The most important legal point regarding admitting a patient with a Service Animal is found in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2010 (ADA). The ADA is a legal federal enactment that applies to all places of public accommodation and commercial facilities. This federal law specifically includes hospitals and medical treatment or care facilities. In a nutshell, the ADA Service Dog access laws require all places of public accommodation to allow access for individuals partnered with a Service Animal. Here’s a more thorough breakdown of federal Service Dog law, and here’s a more thorough breakdown of the law as it specifically pertains to hospitals.

Hospitals are specifically mentioned in the ADA list of public accommodations required to allow Service Animals. However, hospitals are only required to allow Service Dogs in places where members of the general public are allowed. These areas include the emergency room, general patient rooms, and common areas like the lobby, cafeteria, and gift shop.

Service Dogs do NOT have to be admitted to sterile areas or to areas where the public can’t access, like radiology, cardiac care units, the N/ICU, or labs. Having a Service Dog is not a magic ticket to anywhere someone wishes to go. Service Dog handlers have to follow the same rules other members of public abide by.

Legal Requirements For Having a Service Animal In the Hospital

Hospitals may not exclude Service Animals from publically accessible areas on the basis of potential allergies to canine dander, fears or phobias, or any reason that isn’t:

  1. The dog being out of control
  2. The dog interfering with the way the hospital usually runs
  3. The dog not being housetrained

Summed up, that portion of the law requires 3 things before a Service Dog can retain access to the hospital. First, all admitted Service Dogs must be under control. This means they are well-behaved, responsive to the handler, not a nuisance, and not a danger to anyone present. Second, the Service Dog cannot alter the way the hospital provides services. The presence of a working Service Dog cannot fundamentally change the way the hospital does things. Third, the dog must be housetrained. If any of the above 3 requirements aren’t met, the hospital can legally ask you to remove your dog. If they do so, they must allow you to continue to seek services without your canine partner.

The law requires the handler to care for the Service Dog at all times, including feeding, grooming, exercising, and toileting. Staff members can never be required to care for the Service Dog. If the handler is not capable of caring for the dog, then the handler can have someone else (friend or family member) come to care for the dog.

It’s important to note that the hospital is under no legal obligation to allow the friend or family member special access to restricted areas of the hospital in order to care for a patient’s Service Animal. If the handler is not capable (because of illness or something else) of making the decision to have someone else come care for the dog, the hospital can then board the Service Animal at a trusted facility. However, they must first allow the dog’s partner the opportunity to make other arrangements.

Service Dogs in Hospitals Are a “Reasonable Accommodation”

Having a Service Animal in a hospital, particularly as a patient, is a “reasonable accommodation” and not a right. If a legitimate medical or safety reason to exclude the Service Dog exists, then the Service Dog can be excluded, period. This includes inpatient psychiatric units and behavioral health facilities, which are *not* generally areas of the hospital that members of the public may access.

It’s best to be prepared and to know how to address concerns that may come up. This is particularly true if the facility, unit, or hospital does not already have a written Service Dog policy. When requesting access for your Service Animal, being polite, responsive, and prepared will go much further than being combative, defensive, and loudly proclaiming your “rights.”

The most important legal points regarding inpatient psychiatric stays and Service Dogs include:

  1. Hospitals are generally required by law to admit and/or allow Service Dogs who are partnered with a patient with a disability, as long as the admission isn’t to a sterile area or a place the public isn’t allowed
  2. The hospital staff cannot be required to care for the dog in any capacity
  3. The dog must always be under the handler’s direct control
  4. The presence of the Service Animal must not fundamentally alter the nature or type of care provided
  5. An admitted Service Animal must be allowed to remain with their handler in their room

Service Dogs and Inpatient Psychiatric Stays Particulars

Inpatient psychiatric units and behavioral health facilities are designed to be a safe haven. This often means access to certain items or types of items are restricted. Movement, activities, and access to places outside of the unit are also usually limited in an acute inpatient setting. Residential, step down, and less intensive programs often permit varying degrees of freedom. That can make admission with a Service Animal a bit easier.

Since freedom is often limited and access to various items commonly utilized in the care of a Service Dog may not be allowed, there are several very important particulars to consider when developing Service Dog protocol and policies (for facilities), and/or while preparing for an admission with your Service Dog by your side (patients).

Partnership with a Service Dog encompasses several realms of care. Each is affected, even if only tangentially, by inpatient psychiatric care. Those realms include, but aren’t necessarily limited to:

  1. Equipment and Gear
  2. Feeding and Watering
  3. Toileting
  4. Training, Behavior, and Responsiveness
  5. Grooming, Healthcare, and Hygiene
  6. Exercise

As noted, each of these points will need to be considered and addressed. Healthcare facilities and inpatient psychiatric care units should consider adding a section for each to their formal Service Dog protocol or policy. Additionally, the specifics concerning each realm should be clearly laid out and defined. There’s a sample protocol available for download (Inpatient Psychiatric Service Dog Protocol Template) that can be used as a template to help build a comprehensive protocol for your facility.  Having a formal set of requirements cuts down on conflict, which allows for smoother communication between all parties.

Equipment and Gear

When it comes to Service Dog equipment and gear, things can vary widely. Different dogs utilize different items and combinations of items, depending on their job. However, common gear includes vests, harnesses, leashes, collars, head halters, and bandanas. A common rule on psychiatric units and in behavioral health facilities says that no rope-like items are to be possessed by patients. Carefully consider your dog’s ability to work off-leash. If your dog cannot, it’s possible the facility could deny access since possession of the leash would fundamentally alter the unit’s safety rules/requirements.

A judge ruled in New York that a Service Dog staying on an inpatient psychiatric unit would not be required to give up their harness or vest. Other gear, though, like collars or head halters, could potentially fall under the mandatory safety rules. Making requirements clear for all parties is vital.

Feeding and Watering

Just like all dogs, Service Dogs need to eat daily. In many facilities, patients are not allowed to have direct possession of food outside of facility-provided snacks and meals, and especially not in their room. Typically, everything brought in by a patient is thoroughly searched by staff so safety can be ensured. This will most likely include a Service Dog’s gear, food, and basic care supplies.

Packing Dog Food For A Psychiatric Admission

An easy way to ensure your dog’s food isn’t a problem is pack it so it’s easily visible and doesn’t require any extra work on the part of the facility. Measure out each day’s food into individual Ziplock (or similar) baggies, with one meal to a baggie. Add any non-liquid supplements into the baggie with the food before sealing the bag. Neatly place the baggies into a clear plastic container with a lid. Pack a few extra meals, just in case. Your goal here is to make feeding your dog as much of a simple, easy, single-step process as possible.

Tape a piece of paper, information side down to protect privacy, to the underside of the lid. It should clarify and detail the following:

  1. Type (brand and type of protein) of food
  2. Amount of food in each baggie
  3. Optimal feeding times
  4. Number of feeding times a day
  5. Any supplements included in the baggie, like joint care or coat/skin health. Make sure to give the supplement’s name and purpose. Consider adding a description of the supplement, so it can be visually identified. (Examples: Phyto-Flex, joint health, green powder. Tri-C, immune booster, pink powder. Fish oil, coat health, clear capsule.)

The entire container, which should be able to be securely closed, can stay with staff.

Feeding Procedure and Safety

A baggie of food can be easily handed out for meals with morning, afternoon, or evening meds. If required by the facility, the food might have to be offered in a supervised area like the day room.

Make sure to find out what the exact requirements are concerning feeding your dog. Some places will let you use the food to train and reinforce behaviors. Others will want you to place it directly in a bowl and not touch it again. After your dog eats, return the empty plastic baggie and bowl to staff, if required.

Utilizing this system means no one has to

  1. Measure food (which could be considered “requiring staff to partake in the care of the dog”)
  2. Worry about what’s in the container (since everything is visible)
  3. Be concerned about plastic baggies or bowls getting “lost” on the unit
  4. Fret about cleanliness or hygiene, since all the food is in sealed bags and the bags in a sealed container
  5. Fuss about getting things “right” since feeding the Service Dog is as simple as dumping a baggie into the bowl

The dog’s food bowl can also stay behind the counter, if necessary. Wash the bowl out at the sink after each meal. Food particles plus moisture can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so wash thoroughly! Consider using a soft-sided or rubber bowl instead of metal or hard plastic, even if the facility doesn’t require it. Metal/plastic bowls may be utilized as a projectile, and may thus be deemed a hazard.

Water and Safety

In most facilities and inpatient psychiatric hospitals, patients are allowed free access to water throughout the day. If that’s the case, having a bowl of water out for your Service Dog shouldn’t present a problem. Again, consider using soft rubber or collapsable bowls for safety’s sake. On some units, having a bowl of water out all the time isn’t allowed. Instead, water can be given during regularly scheduled unit mealtimes or during the Service Dog’s mealtimes.


What goes in must come out! Toileting a Service Dog is a huge part of figuring out how to integrate dogs into an inpatient psychiatric stay. Most dogs need to go anywhere from 3 to 10 times a day. Many Service Dogs can easily manage if offered opportunities to relieve themselves 3 to 5 times a day. There are many issues surrounding the toileting of a Service Animal, including:

  1. Whether or not a unit is “locked”
  2. Whether or not there are opportunities to go outside
  3. Whether or not a staff escort can be provided for the patient and dog
  4. Whether or not the toileting can be integrated into the standard routine
  5. Whether or not your Service Dog is able to go quickly and reliably on cue or when presented with an opportunity
Service Dogs Must Have Reliable House Training 

Of course, all of this presumes that your Service Animal is impeccably house trained and has been accident-free for a long time. They need to “hold it” until provided with an opportunity to go, even if opportunities are limited. If your Service Dog is not reliably house trained, then they should not be brought with you to the hospital. Lack of house training is one of the few legal reasons why a Service Dog can be excluded. Before beginning the process of gaining access to a behavioral health facility with your dog, you need to have complete faith in their housetraining. If you don’t completely trust your dog, it’ll just be more stressful for you and all involved. This is a situation where no one needs additional stress, particularly not you, the patient.

Options For Service Dog Relief While Inpatient: Trips Outdoors

The next thing to determine is if the facility, hospital, or unit provides opportunities for patients to go outdoors. Many do, but just as many do not. If they do, then toileting your dog can be easily built into the routine. Some programs allow patients a brief time outdoors after meals or after group therapy times. There’s a lot of value in some fresh air, exercise, and sunlight! If multiple outside opportunities aren’t provided on the schedule, it’s ok! Even one or two scheduled trips outdoors a day makes things less complicated.

If you cannot get access to the outdoors as part of the normal schedule, there are some other possible solutions. First, request supervised trips outdoors just long enough for your Service Dog to do their business. This request may not be granted, as it requires staff to go out of their way to accommodate your dog. However, many places will accept this compromise, if they’re able to do so easily and have the staff to spare. If they won’t permit this in the beginning, they may allow it after a few days. You will likely need to have demonstrated the ability to remain safe. It never hurts to ask, though, so don’t be shy.

Options For Service Dog Relief While Inpatient: Other People

Some facilities are comfortable with a friend or family toileting the dog so that neither staff nor patient need to leave the unit, if the patient arranges it and the routine doesn’t disrupt the daily activities. Some facilities will offer to let a staff member take the Service Animal outdoors, although it is very, very important to understand that the program is not required to do this, nor are they required to allow others access to the unit to help care for the dog.

Options For Service Dog Relief While Inpatient: Pad and/or Toilet Training

One of the final options involves utilizing pads. This necessitates that your dog be willing to use a pad, that pads of the proper size are available, and that your dog be trained to toilet on command. If you have a large breed dog, consider purchasing human bed pads since they are much larger, instead of dog piddle pads. If there is a possibility that you will be hospitalized, then consider teaching your dog to use a pad well before it might become a necessity. It’s a very useful skill for Service Animals to possess. It could be utilized not only in the hospital, but also during bad weather, periods of sickness, or while traveling. You could also consider toilet training your partner, which is a solution that cuts out almost all of the hassle and cleanup. Toilet training is more commonly done with cats, but it is absolutely possible with dogs!

Clean Up and Proper Disposal

If you offer pads as a solution, then you also need to discuss how you will clean up and dispose of the waste, as this task falls solely to the handler of the Service Dog. It is a simple enough matter to wrap the pad around the waste and dispose of it in an appropriate receptacle. If allowed, you can also have a supply of larger plastic bags brought in and stored with your dog’s food or behind the nurse’s counter, that you can request when needed so that the soiled pad can be wrapped and sealed to control odor before disposing of it.

Regardless of the method chosen for toileting your dog, you must be prepared to clean up after your Service Dog and to properly dispose of the waste. You will likely not be allowed to keep plastic bags with you or in your room, as they’re a suffocation hazard. You will need to pick one up from the appropriate staff member as needed, and you will probably have to utilize it as intended while supervised. Once you’ve completed the clean up, dispose of it in a designated waste receptacle before returning to the unit or to your regular activities.

The easiest way to pack bags is to include a box of Ziplock (or similar) baggies inside the clear container in which your dog’s food is packed. You can then request a baggie as required, or per whatever guidelines the facility protocols mandate. Quart sized baggies are best for disposal of outdoor waste, and gallon sized baggies or hole-free plastic shopping bags (depending on the size of your dog) are best for the disposal of used pads.

Training, Behavior, and Responsiveness

It’s vital that your Service Dog be extremely solid on their basic obedience, both on and off leash. They must possess solid, reliable public access skills and their manners need to be above reproach. Inpatient psychiatric treatment is not a place for Service Dogs who are still refining their skills, or for dogs who require constant management. They should be able to relax and remain with you without needing much prompting, even under heavy distraction.

It’s very likely that you may not be able to have your dog’s leash or collar for safety reasons, so it’s important that your Service Dog be able to heel, hold a stay, settle well, do an “under,” perform their tasks, and ignore distractions, including food and/or curious, highly interactive people, all while off leash. They should be able to obey and perform in a crowd, around food, and while other people are doing their own thing, regardless of whether the people are standing, at a table, sitting, on the floor, quiet, screaming, etc.

Distraction Proofing and Unshakeable Calm Matters

In short, they need impeccable automatic impulse control. You cannot predict the behavior of others on unit. In order to be the most comfortable, your dog should have a history of not being phased by anything, regardless of how unpredictable or “weird” something, someone, or a situation may seem. Other patients may not respect Service Dog etiquette, so it’s important that your dog be able to ignore other people trying to entice them over or get their attention. They should also be able to ignore the infamous “drive by petting” or being touched as they pass.

Screaming, meltdowns, panic and anxiety attacks, displays of aggression, and tense situations all occur regularly in acute inpatient settings. While not as common as it once was, physical restraint is still utilized when necessary to ensure the safety of a patient or the others on the unit. If someone requires restraint, it can be unsettling, stressful, and even scary, not only for the person being restrained, but also for any observers. Your dog should not become keyed up or overexcited by raised voices, thrashing around, rocking, pacing, agitation, or commotion.

Polish and Proof Training and Taskwork 

Your partner should automatically follow you when you move. They should settle close to you during groups, therapy sessions, recreation, or when you go to bed, without wandering off or engaging with others. An easy way to train for these circumstances, especially the automatic off-leash behaviors, are with the so-called “naked dog” training games, and with impulse control games. Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels are a great resource.

Reward handler proximity. Reward focus. Reward responsiveness. Don’t leave things to chance, as our dogs don’t rise to our expectations. They fall to the level of their training. Thoroughly prepare your partner ahead of time for any potential future hospital stays. Enjoy the training along the way, too!

Your dog’s skills need to be polished and proofed. Your Service Dog being on-unit with you is meant to reduce your stress, not add to it. You don’t want to be required to actively train or manage your dog, especially not because of ill behavior. Additionally, your dog should be unobtrusive and inoffensive. Your dog should not vocalize. Your dog should not be timid, reactive, aggressive, or fearful. Your dog should not jump, steal, ignore you, or otherwise showcase bad manners. Your dog should not be high-strung, anxious, wound, jittery, and/or unable to relax.

Your Service Dog will need to be able to spend hours or entire days doing nothing except hanging out and performing tasks for you as needed. A good way to provide mental stimulation to your dog while on unit is to perform tricks or cue differentiation and thinking games. You may not be able to reward your dog outside of verbal praise and petting. As long as your Service Dog has a solid training foundation and is familiar with the behaviors, that’s fine. We encourage all Service Dog handlers to teach their dog tricks for bonding purposes, skill development, and mental stimulation. There’s no reason to not start now!

Grooming, Hygiene, and Healthcare

When it comes to having animals in hospitals, hygiene is an important consideration. The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America released new guidelines on having animals in hospitals. It has more or less summated that well-cared-for dogs do not pose a huge risk of transmitting disease or devastating bacteria. However, they do note that the hospital’s cleaning staff should be made aware of the presence of the dog, and that appropriate precautions be taken.

Handlers should be prepared to wash and sanitize their hands regularly. They may be asked to provide wipes for their Service Dog’s feet, to be utilized before and after the dog goes outside. Boots may be requested by the facility, which may only be worn while the dog is inside. Boots should be considered for your partner’s comfort, anyways, as many dogs aren’t used to working solely on slippery tile for days at a time.

If requested, Service Dog handlers should provide copies of:

  1. Their dog’s vaccination records
  2. Worming schedule
  3. Proof of internal/external parasite prevention
  4. License status
  5. Any other health care testing (such as proof of lack of MRSA) that may be pertinent

All of this information should be copied and kept neatly in a folder, just in case it’s ever needed. Generally, places of public accommodation can’t ask for this type of documentation. However, since Service Dogs may be excluded from non-public areas of the hospital, it’s a good idea to be prepared to present healthcare documentation.

Many Service Dogs require regular grooming, including brushing, ear care, paw care, or teeth care. You’ll need to discuss how you can access the materials necessary to care for your dog. Many facilities will hand your dog’s personal care items out to you when they provide your personal care products of a morning or evening. Some places may require you to be supervised while using them, especially if the combs or brushes contain metal. If you can’t have access to grooming supplies, ask if a visitor can perform the chores for you.

Using baby shampoo (regularly provided by behavioral health facilities) and allowing your partner to shower with you is an easy way to keep them clean and smelling fresh. An alternative, if allowed, would be to use something like a waterless shampoo to keep their coat clean and deodorized. Just request that whatever you use for your dog’s skin and coat be handed out with your own hygiene products. Placing the product in a smaller bottle might make facilities more inclined to accept it. Having the product in its original container might provoke fewer questions. Just ask your behavioral health facility what they would be most comfortable doing. You may be required to provide unopened bottles so the program can be certain nothing was added.

As always, prepare the products in a way that makes them very simple to hand out and use. Consider pre-moistening cotton pads with ear solution and sealing them in a baggie for later use. Put your dog’s toothbrush and a small container of their toothpaste in a baggie together. Consider skipping paw care for awhile, as it’s unlikely you’ll be allowed access to clippers or a dremel. If you simply can’t, make arrangements for a way your Service Animal can have their paw care safely handled.


Getting exercise for a Service Dog admitted to an inpatient psychiatric care facility can be difficult. If the regular schedule of events includes time outdoors, then running around or a few solid minutes of walking remain possibilities. Otherwise, you may be left to walk a few laps around the unit. Playing mental stimulation games is always a great possibility, too.

Inpatient Psychiatric Admission With a Service Dog Steps (For Patients)

  1. Notify your chosen program, facility, or hospital that you are partnered with a Service Animal. If you can’t notify them ahead of time, then discuss it during your intake.
  2. Ask about their Service Dog policy and/or protocol.
  3. If they have an established Service Dog protocol, request a copy so you can begin to appropriately prepare to meet their guidelines and requirements.
  4. If they do not have an established Service Dog protocol and aren’t sure how to handle a Service Dog, ask if you can send over a sample protocol for them to review. That way, they can better see how a Service Dog integrates into the unit with a patient. Consider drafting up a plan for safely integrating your dog with point by point breakdowns of common facility concerns and how you’d like to address them. List your dog’s obedience skills, manners, and behaviors, and include copies of any titles or certifications (like the American Temperament Test title, obedience titles, or a Canine Good Citizen certification). If your dog has taken a formal Public Access Test, include those results. To round out the packet, add your partner’s health records. Keep this all in a folder that can easily be passed to someone for consideration.
  5. Adhere to the facility’s requirements as listed in the protocol. Prepare your dog’s gear, equipment, and daily care essentials appropriately. If you can’t prepare your Service Dog’s stuff, then ask a family member or friend to pack it for you. Give your helpers precise and detailed instructions to follow.
  6. If the facility or hospital did not have an established Service Dog protocol but are willing to consider allowing your Service Dog to admit with you, request a meeting with the appropriate staff members so requirements and expectations for all parties are clearly laid out. Typically, this meeting will be with someone in the admin level of the social work, therapeutic, or patient care realm. Address any and all concerns presented in a professional and polite manner. Be concise and direct, and allow for open and frank communication. Prepare well for this meeting. Ideally, you should prepare ahead of time, long before a psychiatric admission may be necessary, so it’s less stressful when the time comes. You may have to walk the staff through proper daily care of a Service Dog while also presenting solutions to the various problems or concerns presented.
  7. If the psychiatric program refuses admission for your Service Dog, request a meeting with the proper people in administration and/or request that they review your documentation and your Service Dog safety and integration plan. Politely and professionally lay out the information you’ve prepared. Make known the fact that you rely on your Service Animal for daily functioning. Stress the point that your Service Dog directly mitigates your disability in a way nothing else can. Ensure they know that your mental health will suffer if you are forcibly separated from your partner. Propose a 24 hour trial. If the staff are not comfortable or content with your dog’s behavior at the end of the 24 hours, a meeting can be reconvened to discuss alternatives, such as visitation. Don’t give up hope — most concerns can be addressed and compromises can be reached.
  8. Undergo the standard admissions process for your chosen program or facility. If you must be transported by ambulance, the ADA is quite clear. As long as space permits and your Service dog doesn’t affect your medical stability, your partner can ride with you in the ambulance.

Inpatient Psychiatric Admission With a Service Dog Steps (For Facilities)

  1. Determine your requirements for having a Service Dog on inpatient psychiatric care units. Figure out how a dog affects your daily activities, safety requirements, scheduling, personal effects policies, or anything else. Once you’ve done that, figure out ways to mitigate or minimize the potential problems, issues, or concerns.
  2. Develop a comprehensive Service Dog protocol. This should be a detailed document that exhaustively covers all the considerations of having a dog living on unit with their handler. It should address anything that may come up as a concern or point of contention, so that expectations for everyone can be clearly laid out with as little strife and stress as is possible.
  3. When you receive word of an incoming patient who is partnered with a Service Animal, immediately send over a copy of your established protocol so they may review it.
  4. Hold a meeting with the patient to discuss each item, or format your protocol so the patient must initial each item and sign it so they convey understanding.
  5. Admit the patient and Service Dog as normal.
  6. Allow the patient to speak up in the first group session they attend with their dog, if possible. Let them introduce their dog and explain Service Dog protocol. Clear communication from the beginning prevents problems later.

Final Notes on Inpatient Psychiatric Admissions With a Service Dog

The majority of these guidelines and suggestions boil down to “communicate clearly,” “compromise,” and “find solutions.” There are ways to make sure everyone remains safe — patient, dog, others on unit, staff — while also ensuring patients partnered with a Service Dog can remain with their dog. Not separating dog and person can be particularly important during trying times like psychiatric hospitalizations. There’s enough going on without subjecting someone to the stress of having to fight for access to a proven treatment modality.

Psychiatric treatment facilities should know how they’re going to handle a Service Dog admission before one comes along. Planning ahead ensures the entire situation is as stress-free and smooth as possible for all involved. Once a sick or struggling patient is waiting for admission with their Service Dog, it’s a little too late to try to handle the admission calmly and without hitches. That is absolutely the wrong time to figure out how admission with a Service Dog is going work. So, make things easier for everyone — plan ahead!

It’s important for patients, administrators, and staff to remember that the facility is not required to do anything with the dog. It’s all on the patient. The dog will not add to staff member’s work loads.

It is just as important for patients to plan ahead, too. The need for inpatient psychiatric care rarely follows anyone’s schedule, so regularly work on the skills your dog may need if there’s any chance you may require one. Patients should work with their dog from the very beginning on polishing and solidifying skills. That has nothing to do with admission for an inpatient psychiatric stay and everything to do with being a good Service Dog team. That being said, you should have faith in your dog’s skills before you start the admissions process.

Do you think there’s something we missed, or something you wish you had known when you faced inpatient psychiatric admission with a Service Dog? If so, comment and let us know!



  • Roymond May 10, 2017

    Wow– that’s a lot to absorb.

    I recognized a lot of similarities with two regular hospital stays I’ve had. The overnight part was different each time; once they just let Bammer sleep on the bed, but the other the hospital had a guest facility attached, so Bammer left with a friend once I fell asleep at night and was back for breakfast. The second was when he got a tiny bit out of control; not accustomed to not being right by me at night, he was incredibly frisky when he saw me again in the morning (he was also a bit of a problem in the guest facility; my friend said Bammer took every opportunity to try to get back to me). But in both cases he walked along with the gurney as I was wheeled into the prep area, and lay down and waited outside the door until I was wheeled back out of surgery (though he got concerned, I’m told, when I didn’t respond to his licks and pawing until the anaesthetic wore off).

    I’ll probably read this a dozen times before it all makes a reeal impression!

  • Mardi Hadfield May 10, 2017

    I had a friend who was left at a Psyc facility by her mother , when the mother wanted to go on vacation. My friend was totally blind. She had a guide dog, which also (naturally ) picked up on her Psyc issues.She was then allowed to live in their Halfway House. She was allowed to go out to visit with friends during the day but had to be back by a certain time. The Problem, was that they refused to allow her to have the dog with her.She had an ID for the dog to prove it was a guide dog. I advocated for her and was polite and very proffessional as I have advocated for many disabled people. I called the DOJ and they sent me the information I requested and they agreed that the dog should be allowd.We had a meeting and they wanted her to provide a state certification for the dog, which there is no state certification in Arizona. And the ADA says that a Service dog does not need to be certified.This went on for months. Every legal place we contacted, legal aid, atty. general, Disability law, no one wanted to get in volved. My friend went on line and bought a fake cervice dog kit and that is what this facility accepted. After 3 month of trying to reason with them, that is what it took to get her dog in. Her mother did not want her to have the dog and tried to give it away several times. We signed a leagley wittnessed document that I was a co-owner of this dog with my friend so no one could take her dog away from her.This dog was impeccable and beyond. And my friend needed this dog as she was totally blind and the dog did pick up on her Psyc issues. She had the dog with her for about 1 month and things lookd like they were getting much better. The last time I talked with her, she sounded very happy. Next thing, I am notified by some one on our guide dog list that she had died. I have inquired about the dog as to where it was. I have been denied access to the dog, and still don’t know what even happened to my friend. I don’t know what happened to the dog either. I legally co-owned that dog and have nothing to gain by taking it but I do care about the dog’s wellbeing. I took care of the dog at my home and the dog got along with my guide dogs and some pets and a foster dog while it was at my home. But when my friend came to visit her dog, that dog just lit up and never left her side while my friend was here. My friend really needed and loved this dog and the dog needed and loved her. I just pray that this dog is some where that it is happy as I am sure this dog was devistated when my friend died. This is an exsreamly sad situation.

  • John Parsons May 10, 2017

    Very good article. I disagree with some of it, though. The documentation (Grooming, Hygiene, and Healthcare and Inpatient Psychiatric Admission With a Service Dog Steps (For Patients)) is not required by the ADA and, in fact, it is illegal to require it. It can cause an undue burden on some handlers, especially for an owner-trainer. One person providing these documents can undermine all efforts at not being expected to produce them. It is correct that the burden of caring for the service dog cannot be on the staff but that does not equate to the staff not having to do additional work. Things like accompanying a patient outdoors to potty a service dog and handing out a bag of food should be considered reasonable accommodations. A visitor should be allowed to walk the service dog outside as long as the handler is allowed visitors. Boots should be the handler’s decision and should be only be for the service dog’s comfort or safety. Service dogs do not present a risk of infection any more than a staff member’s shoes.
    Something that should be considered is the service dog’s safety. Some patients may be a danger to the service dog.
    A service dog should never be utilized as a therapy dog. The handler must advocate for the service dog at all times, with other patients, with staff members, and with administrators.
    Every service dog team will be judged by both their behavior and the behavior of prior teams. It is imperative that the handler be well versed in applicable laws; CDC Guidelines; and facility policies, procedures, and protocols. Establishing a relationship with a facility in advance of a time of actual need can make the admission process and stay much easier for all involved.

  • Catherine Cottam May 10, 2017

    This is so informative and helpful! Thank you for sharing! The psych ward I was on wouldn’t allow service dogs, but I wonder if they would let mine come with my parents for visitation so I could at least have some time with her. I’ll have to ask if I have to be hospitalized again.

  • Rahja May 10, 2017

    Even if you wrote this for handlers, such as myself, as well as for administrations of said hospitals… I as also a trainer find this article REQUIRED reading for those who wish to ask for or need a Service Dog prior to even starting their training. I am constantly repeating myself to those who approach me and as a constant advocate for teams, I don’t always remember the guidelines when it comes to things like churches, health institutions and those that are more sensitive such as psychiatric facilities. This covers SO much that I will recommend your article via my blog and in my own training blog for K9’s that I hope to send others to as REQUIRED reading so they can be educated and able to offer them consistent confidence so they are able to stand up for their own needs and know the laws that they may be facing. THANK YOU! I LOVE YOUR Articles!

  • Cindy Sanford May 12, 2017

    Excellent article! The template is well done, lots of good ideas for hospitals to consider. I have made a form that could be a help for the hospitalized handler, the Service Dog Emergency Data form. Please feel free to utilize as needed. You can find it at:

  • Allison May 25, 2017

    This is a good heads up for me. I don’t have a service dog but its also understandable why some hospitals don’t allow them.


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