Service Dogs for ADHD: Benefits, Things to Consider, Application Process

person walking their service dog

Jim Craigmyle / Getty Images

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder that causes impulsivity, hyperactivity, lack of focus, and numerous other symptoms. About 4.4% of US adults between the ages of 18 and 44 years old have a diagnosis of ADHD. It is more common in men than women, and non-Hispanic white folks have a higher diagnostic prevalence than other racial/ethnic groups.

Though this can be a challenging disorder to navigate, many living with ADHD have robust and productive lives. Strong coping tools can play a large role in navigating an ADHD diagnosis, leading some to wonder if a service dog is an option for them.

This article will explore how a service dog can help with ADHD symptoms, considerations, the application process, and tools to use if a service dog isn’t right for you.

How Can a Service Dog Help ADHD?

“First, there’s limited scientific evidence to support the use of animal-assisted services for ADHD,” explains Dr. Patrick LaCount, a psychologist specializing in the treatment of ADHD among college students and adults. Dr. Shauna Pollard, a clinical psychologist who also specializes in ADHD treatment, noted that while her clients receive support from their pets, she currently doesn't have any patients in her practice who have a service dog for their ADHD diagnosis.

Despite the limited evidence and rarity of service dogs being used by those living with ADHD, there certainly are reasons a service dog could be of great support for this condition. LaCount explains that a service dog may help their owner when they get distracted from an important task, help them sustain a routine, and encourage them to burn off excess energy. 

Service dogs can also interfere during times of emotional distress by prompting the owner to redirect their attention. Some service dogs are trained to provide physical pressure on the body as a form of grounding, ultimately decreasing anxiety. While many may think of adults with ADHD benefitting from service dogs, it is possible for a service dog to be of great help to a child with ADHD. If a child wanders off, an appropriately trained service dog could help the family locate them. 

ADHD Service Dog Application Process

Keeping in mind that a service dog is for someone who has a physical or mental disability that hinders their daily activities, a service dog requires extensive training. The best way to get a service dog is to find an organization that specializes in training psychiatric service dogs.

Doing so ensures that you receive a service animal that is equipped to support you in navigating your ADHD symptoms. Little Angels Service Dogs and Doggie Does Good are two great organizations that focus on supporting those with psychiatric disabilities receive support from service dogs. 

Written documentation from your clinician is necessary to qualify for a service animal. They will have to confirm that your current ADHD symptoms are debilitating, thus justifying adopting a service animal. Additionally, you will need to register your service dog and ensure it has identification. While it is illegal for others to require you show identification of your service dog, having it handy can keep be helpful nonetheless.

Things to Consider About Getting a Service Dog

A service dog isn’t a pet—it is an animal with a job. That means that the dog must provide assistance that is directly related to the owner’s disability. Service dogs are either trained by the owner or a professional trainer.

With that in mind, it is important to consider the money and time that will go into training a service dog. Additionally, you might want to consider how a service dog will help you perform essential tasks that an ADHD diagnosis prohibits you from doing physically. 

What to Do If You Can’t Get a Service Dog

If you’re unable to get a service dog, consider other outlets of help that may be useful. First, seeking out the support of a licensed mental health professional is critical, and even receiving medication can also be very helpful.

Dr. Pollard recommends a technique she calls “chunking,” which refers to breaking up tasks into manageable pieces. “This might look like doing 10 minutes of laundry a day or folding half a load of laundry before taking a break,” she explains. She also encourages mindfulness techniques. “Mindfulness ultimately helps you to become more conscious of where your attention goes and how you can create a gap between your thoughts and behaviors,” she explained. She acknowledges that the goal isn’t to feel calm in the moment, but a consistent mindfulness practice can increase feelings of being calm. 

According to Pollard, there are some additional resources that may be of support. She recommends the book Natural Relief for Adult ADHD: Complementary Strategies for Increasing Focus, Attention, and Motivation With or Without Medication by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, Ph.D. A few podcasts she encourages those with ADHD to listen to are ADHD ReWired, Hacking Your ADHD, and I’m Busy Being Awesome.

A Word From Verywell

Coping with ADHD is no easy task. In addition to seeking out a licensed therapist, consider joining a support group. If you're noticing that you're experiencing feelings of hopelessness, wanting to harm yourself, or wanting to harm others, you don't have to suffer in silence. Dial 988 to get connected to mental health support. If you're experiencing an emergency, dial 911.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Statistics

By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.