Emotional support dogs (ESDs) are beneficial to people with mental health issues. They can provide grounding techniques and keep their owners feeling safe in otherwise high-stress and high-emotion situations. Emotional support animals help individuals with many mental health disabilities, including but not limited to:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Traumatic brain injuries
There are numerous breeds to choose from when it comes to emotional support dogs, and it can feel overwhelming. However, choosing the right emotional support dog based on breed is a well-known concept, as some breeds are more suited to being assistance animals than others.
The Bottom Line
- What Are Emotional Support Dogs?
- Who Can Emotional Support Dogs Help?
- What Kind of Emotional Support Dog Breeds Are There?
- Where Did The Breeds Originate?
- What Should I Look For in an Emotional Support Dog Breed?
- FAQs About Emotional Support Dogs
What Are Emotional Support Dogs?
Emotional support dogs (ESDs) are dogs that help individuals with emotional or mental health disabilities by providing companionship and emotional assistance. These conditions and disabilities include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias. ESDs can provide therapeutic benefits to their owners. However, emotional support animals should not be confused with psychiatric service dogs or therapy dogs.
Emotional support dogs vs. psychiatric service dogs
Unlike emotional support animals, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are trained by professionals who teach the service dog to perform specific tasks relating to their owner's mental illness and disabilities. They are legally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are seen as working dogs and are allowed anywhere, even in places with a "no pets" policy, including housing and public places. A psychiatric service dog helps those with mental disabilities who may not otherwise be able to take care of themselves.
On the other hand, therapy dogs are often found in hospitals, nursing homes, children's wards, etc. They offer happiness and relaxation to individuals suffering from physical or mental health issues.
Accessing public establishments with your emotional support dog
Emotional support dogs are ideal for individuals with specific mental health conditions who would benefit from regular companionship and emotional assistance to cope with the challenges of daily life. Unlike service dogs, they are not covered by the ADA, so establishments are under no legal obligation to accommodate emotional support animals.
For this reason, having an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional is a valuable asset in accessing public establishments with your emotional support dog – though this is at the discretion of the owner or manager. However, under the terms of the federal Fair Housing Act, housing providers must accept tenants with emotional support dogs, as long as they have an ESA letter verifying their legitimate need for a companion animal.
Who Can Emotional Support Dogs Help?
ESDs can help anybody who has a mental health condition or disorder, such as:
- Anxiety: A persistent feeling of dread that interferes with daily life
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A psychiatric disorder occurring in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event
- Depression: A mental illness that causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, loss of energy, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Phobias such as flying (aerophobia) and being outside the home (agoraphobia)
Just by being a comforting, reassuring presence, emotional support dogs can help individuals with these mental health conditions and many others. A support animal can help lessen mental illness symptoms so that its owner can lead a more present and active life. Emotional support dogs can offer affection to their pet parents during stressful and high-anxiety situations.
What Kind of ESD Breeds Are There?
Various dog breeds can serve as emotional support animals. The options are practically limitless when it comes to finding the perfect fit. However, certain breeds are a better fit as support dogs than others.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are small dogs that have long been favorites of the British royal family. Charles I and Charles II lent their names to the dogs. It is said that King Charles II never went anywhere without two or three of these dogs during his reign from 1660 to 1685.
Spaniels are very affectionate and adapt well to smaller living situations, such as apartment life. They are intelligent and easy to train, making them ideal as assistance dogs.
A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel will be very loving and offer you a safe space at the end of a hard day.
Possibly one of the most common service dog options, Labrador Retrievers also make exceptional emotional support dogs.
Originating in Newfoundland and brought to England by fishermen around the 1800s, Labrador Retrievers are even-tempered and gentle giants. For generations, they have been ideal family pets, becoming the most popular dog breed in the United States in the 1990s.
Originally used as guide dogs for the blind, they have also been used as rescue dogs and in the military and police work.
Labrador Retrievers are easy to train and love pleasing their owners, making them an excellent choice as a support dog.
Corgis are happy, playful, easygoing dogs that enjoy being the center of attention and are lovable toward their owners. Corgis have gentle temperaments with curious, intelligent personalities. They are easy to train and make an excellent small-size emotional support dog, standing just 10 to 12 inches and weighing between 25 and 38 lbs.
There are two different Corgi breeds to choose from if a Corgi is your choice of a support dog.
The Cardigan Welsh Corgi is descended from dogs brought to Wales by the Celts around 1200 BC. They are named for Cardiganshire and are related to the Dachshund family of dogs.
On the other hand, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is descended from dogs brought to Wales by Flemish weavers around 1100 AD.
The Corgi is well known for its association with Queen Elizabeth II, who has owned corgis during her entire reign and her childhood.
Another smaller breed, the Yorkshire Terrier (Yorkie), originated from the county of Yorkshire in England. They were first developed by Scottish weavers who migrated to England and bred different terrier breeds around the 1800s.
Yorkies are known to be working dogs but can be stubborn. They take time and patience, especially if you want them to be companion dogs. They thrive on human affection and do not like to be left alone for long periods.
Maltese are pint-sized, white, fluffy toy dogs that make great emotional support dogs for someone looking for a cuddly companion.
The Maltese breed is thought to be from Malta, an island nation south of Sicily. They were popular with royal figureheads, such as Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, who had Maltese dogs in the palace during their reigns.
Maltese dogs are hypoallergenic, making them great for people with allergies. They have a loving personality, so they want to please their owners and give and receive affection.
The Maltese is a popular emotional support animal breed, as these dogs crave attention and are well-suited to helping people who need playfulness and extra joy in their lives.
The Great Dane is a towering dog breed that can offer protection when needed. Great Danes are loyal, protective, and affectionate. They are incredibly gentle and friendly and will be dedicated to their family.
Great Danes originated in Germany as hunting dogs, yet they became more affectionate over time, making them better suited as watchdogs and companions rather than hunters.
Great Danes are intelligent and clever, playful and funny, and quick to keep their owners feeling safe and secure. They enjoy receiving attention and will be loyal to a fault, only obeying their owner. They can make great emotional support dogs, especially for someone who has an intense fear of leaving the house or being around strangers.
What Should I Look For in an Emotional Support Dog Breed?
There are various things to keep in mind when choosing an ESD breed, especially if the emotional support dog will be trained to aid in specific tasks. No two dog breeds are the same, and no two dogs are the same, either. Some dogs are quicker to learn than others, while some breeds may be more apt to offer emotional support than others.
Some things to keep in mind are:
- Housing situation
FAQs About ESD Breeds
While some dog breeds may especially popular as ESDs, finding the correct breed for your unique emotional and mental health needs is essential. Whether purebred, mixed-breed, or even a shelter dog, there is a perfect emotional support companion out there that will fit your requirements.
How do I find an ESD?
The best place to look would be somewhere nearby that can work with you to make sure the ESD is a good fit. Choosing a big dog, like a Great Dane or Labrador Retriever, is not wise if you have a small apartment. Yet even if you have ample space, you may want a small dog that is easier to cuddle. Shelters are a great place to start the search for your furry friend.
Do I need an emotional support animal letter to have an ESD?
Although no law states that you need to register your ESD or obtain an emotional support animal (ESA) letter, it can help avoid conflict and confrontation when it comes to your companion animal accompanying you in public places. However, establishments are under no obligation to admit your ESD – it is entirely up to the owner or manager. An ESA letter may help convince them that you have a legitimate need.
On the other hand, you will need an ESA letter if you want your emotional support dog to live with you in no-pets housing.
Getting an ESA letter for housing purposes is especially important if you already have an emotional support dog but don’t have the necessary paperwork. To officially make a dog an ESA, you will need to attain an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Then, after an appointment and diagnosis, a health professional can write you a formal ESA letter that you can provide to a landlord to justify having a dog in a building where pets aren’t allowed.
Is there a specific breed that should not be emotional support dogs?
Not at all! Any dog breed can become an ESD. It all depends on the dog's temperament and ability to be trained. It also depends on what you hope to get out of the relationship with your canine companion. Some dogs can be stubborn and hard to train, while others can behave well at home but not in public.
Can I have more than one emotional support animal?
Yes! You can have as many emotional support animals as you want. However, you will have to be reasonable about this if you are hoping to live in certain housing situations with your support animals. There are different rules for service animals, which require specific documentation. It is best to talk to your physician or mental health care provider to determine how many emotional support or service animals you need.