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
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best dog breeds for emotional support?
The best dog breeds for emotional support often include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. These breeds are known for their gentle demeanor, intelligence, and ability to form strong bonds with their owners. They are also trainable and can adapt well to different living environments, making them excellent companions for those in need of emotional support.
How do the origins of certain dog breeds influence their suitability as emotional support animals?
The origins of dog breeds can greatly influence their traits and behaviors, which in turn affects their suitability as emotional support animals. For example, breeds like Labrador Retrievers were originally bred to be hunting dogs, which required them to be attentive and responsive to their human companions. These traits make them naturally empathetic and attuned to human emotions, qualities that are ideal in an emotional support animal.
Can any dog breed be trained to be an emotional support animal?
While any dog breed can potentially be trained to be an emotional support animal, some breeds may be more naturally suited to the role due to their temperament and characteristics. Breeds that are sociable, calm, and responsive to training, such as the ones mentioned earlier, are typically better candidates. However, the individual dog's personality and the quality of training they receive are also crucial factors.
What is the process for certifying a dog as an emotional support animal?
To certify a dog as an emotional support animal (ESA), an individual must obtain a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that the dog is part of their treatment plan for a mental health condition. The letter should include the professional's license number, type of mental health professional, and the date the letter was issued. It's important to note that ESAs are not required to undergo any specific training.
Are there any restrictions on where emotional support dogs are allowed to go?
Emotional support dogs do not have the same legal rights as service dogs and are not granted access to all public spaces. However, under the Fair Housing Act, they are allowed in most types of housing, even those with no-pet policies. Additionally, some airlines may allow emotional support dogs to fly with their owners, but policies vary and have tightened in recent years, so it's important to check with the airline beforehand.
How do emotional support dogs help individuals with mental health issues?
Emotional support dogs help individuals with mental health issues by providing companionship, reducing feelings of anxiety and depression, and offering unconditional love. Their presence can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and increase levels of oxytocin, which promotes positive emotional states. The routine and responsibility of caring for a dog can also provide structure and purpose, further aiding in the owner's emotional well-being.
Is there a difference between an emotional support dog and a psychiatric service dog?
Yes, there is a significant difference between an emotional support dog and a psychiatric service dog. Emotional support dogs provide comfort and support through their presence, without needing specialized training. In contrast, psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to help individuals with a psychiatric disability, such as reminding them to take medication or interrupting self-harming behaviors. Service dogs have broader public access rights compared to emotional support dogs.