There are a lot of people today who need emotional support dogs. One may be a person who is struggling with a disability that is difficult to deal with.
Therefore, they need a dog that will help offer comfort and support. There is also the case of people who are grieving over the loss of a loved one. Such individuals would also need a dog that will make them feel better.
What Is an Emotional Support Dog?
Although all dogs offer an emotional connection with their owner, to legally be considered an emotional support dog, also called an emotional support animal (ESA), the pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness.
A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient.
For example, owning a pet might ease a person’s anxiety or give them a focus in life. The dogs can be of any age and any breed.
Things You Need to Know About Emotional Support Animals (ESA)
- Emotional support dogs (ESAs) are pets and not service dogs.
- Mental health professionals prescribe emotional support animals under the law.
- Airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals.
Every dog owner knows there are many benefits to having a dog, from getting themselves out for exercise to receiving loyal companionship.
However, for some people with mental or emotional conditions, the presence of a dog is critical to their ability to function normally on a daily basis.
The pet provides emotional support and comfort that helps them deal with challenges that might otherwise compromise their quality of life.
These pets are known as emotional support animals (ESAs).
Emotional Support Dog vs. Service Dogs
ESA`s provide support through companionship and can help ease anxiety, depression, and certain phobias. However, they are not service dogs, and ESA users do not receive the same accommodations as service dog users.
A service dog, such as a guide dog or psychiatric service dog, is generally allowed anywhere the public is allowed; ESA`s are not. For example, ESA`s generally cannot accompany their owners into restaurants or shopping malls.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
The act clearly states that animals that simply provide emotional comfort do not qualify as service animals. Some state and local laws have a broader definition, so be sure to check with local government agencies to learn if ESAs qualify for public access in your area.
The key difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog is whether the animal has been trained to perform a specific task or job directly related to the person’s disability.
For example, service dogs are trained to alert a hearing-impaired person to an alarm or guide a visually impaired person around an obstacle or provide pressure on someone with PTSD who is suffering from a panic attack.
Behaviors such as cuddling on cue, although comforting, do not qualify.
The tasks need to be specifically trained to mitigate a particular disability, not something instinctive the dog would do anyway.
Top 10 ESA Dog Breeds
1. Labrador Retriever
Labradors are known to be some of the gentlest breeds around, so they make perfect ESAs. Another bonus of this popular dog breed is that they’re highly food motivated, making them much easier to train than other breeds.
Labradors are great with kids too, so they're perfect to welcome into families. These dogs are the ultimate all-rounders, so they make an excellent choice for ESA work.
2. Yorkshire Terrier
Yorkies are the sweetest of the sweet lap dogs. Tiny little things don't require a huge amount of space or exercise, which makes them a great choice for owners who live in apartments and can't do lots of exercises to keep their pup healthy.
Yorkshire terriers are happiest when they're perched on their owner’s lap or at least somewhere nearby.
This makes them great ESAs, as they are super affectionate little dogs that love physical contact.
Beagles are slightly dopey — in a super cute way, of course — and utterly adorable as pets. Their lovable nature also ensures that they make great ESAs.
Beagles possess a personality that includes the best of both worlds — either active and energetic or cuddly and calm. Beagles make really versatile ESAs.
Corgis represent a stable, obedient, and loyal breed. Oh, and have you seen their adorable fluffy butts? If not, we recommend you look that up, like, right now! Although short in stature, this breed is certainly not short on personality.
Corgis make a good choice for an ESA because of their even-tempered nature and loyalty to their owner.
Just one look at a pug’s adorable yet hilarious mug puts a smile on your face. Pugs are great with kids, and also great at tuning into the emotions of their owners. This makes them excellent at being emotional support animals, as they’re able to sense your mood and lift it with their cheeky behavior and cute mannerisms.
One consideration if you're thinking of a pug as an ESA: some airlines don’t allow these dogs to fly due to their classification as a short-nosed breed. The breed can experience breathing problems, so if you plan a lot of travel, it's probably best to choose another breed.
6. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The floppy-eared good looks of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are a key draw of this type of dog. These spaniels are mellow, quiet, and low-energy dogs.
They're also very low maintenance, meaning that if you have depression that limits your activities, this breed makes great ESAs.
These balls of fluff are the ultimate lap dogs, making them a perfect choice as an ESA.
Pomeranians love nothing better than being close to their owners at all times, so they’re the ideal pets to provide attention and affection as ESAs. If you want a pet to become your closest friend, a Pomeranian is a great choice.
8. Golden Retriever
Like the Labrador, golden retrievers are a loyal, lively breed that requires a moderate to the high amount of exercise, which makes them good as ESAs for those who are comfortable with that.
Make sure you’re able to give them the appropriate amount of activity and stimulation they need.
Poodles are an incredibly smart breed that bond closely with their owner. Their high level of intelligence means they’re very easy to train, a valuable quality in an ESA.
Having a pet that’s highly trainable means that you’re less likely to experience issues when flying with your pet. Having a well-trained dog can make for a far less stressful experience than a disobedient or headstrong breed.
Chihuahuas are one of the most people-loving — and neediest! — breeds. If you’re after a dog that bonds closely with you and you have plenty of time and attention to give it, then this teeny-tiny breed can be a good ESA choice. Chihuahuas are not particularly fond of children and sometimes even other dogs, so be aware of these traits.
They can also be very noisy if left alone, preferring to be at the side (or on the lap) of a human at all times. Chihuahuas are tiny balls of love, with eyes only for their owners, which is great for those with depression.
Whatever breed of dog you choose as your companion, you’ve made a great choice to treat your mental health issues using an emotional support animal.
May your ESA be a source of constant support and love for many years to come.
Characteristics Of A Good Emotional Support Dog
While any dog, and indeed any animal, can be used as an Emotional Support Animal, some will be more well suited to the task than others.
Generally speaking, they should be docile and have a friendly temperament, should be intelligent and trainable, and form bonds with people quickly and be able to “read” people’s emotional states.
More specifically, the characteristics of a good Emotional Support Dog include:
- Trainable – Emotional Support Dogs should be highly trainable not only so they can learn specific techniques associated with emotional support but also to ensure they are very well-behaved in the home. When struggling with emotional issues, you want a dog that will respond quickly to commands such as sit and stay, rather than ignoring you are causing further frustration.
- Affectionate – Dogs that form a close bond with their owner make better EMAs as they are more in tune with their owner’s energy levels and emotions. This makes them better able to respond to moments of emotional challenge without necessarily being told what to do.
- Intelligent – Intelligent dogs are generally easier to train and better at reading the emotions of people. Intelligent dogs can be challenging for some owners as they need a lot of attention, but they can be easier to deliver in an intimate emotional support relationship.
- Social – As emotional support dogs may accompany you to public places, they need to know how to behave properly around other people and other animals.
- Docile – dogs that are overly excitable can sometimes create greater tension within the home during times of high tension, especially if they are not well-trained. Dogs that bark excessively or have a habit of jumping should generally be avoided.
- Strong Character – While docile animals are recommended, timid dogs are not. Dogs that are too timid may find themselves unable to engage with their owner in darker moments.
Many people will choose to train their existing animals to work as their emotional support dog, as they have an existing relationship.
But if you are choosing a new dog for this purpose, one that has the above characteristics will work best.
The size of the dog depends on you and your lifestyle. Small dogs are better for apartment life and if you are looking for a dog that can go with you everywhere.
But large dogs can be better if your anxiety relates to security and personal safety.
Emotional Support Dogs - Psychiatric Service Dogs
There are service dogs, known as psychiatric service dogs that require extensive training to work specifically with people whose disability is due to mental illness.
These dogs detect the beginning of psychiatric episodes and help ease their effects. Although this sounds similar to the role of an ESA, the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an ESA is again in the tasks performed by the dog and the training received to perform these tasks.
Psychiatric service dogs (recognized by the ADA as service dogs) have been trained to do certain jobs that help the handler cope with a mental illness.
For example, the dog might remind a person to take prescribed medications, keep a disoriented person in a dissociative episode from wandering into a hazardous situation such as traffic or perform room searches for a person with post-traumatic stress disorder.
If it is simply the dog’s presence that helps the person cope, then the dog does not qualify as a psychiatric service dog.
How Many Emotional Support Animals Can You Have?
Can you have more than one emotional support animal? Are there any legal implications?
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) states that a person with a mental or emotional disability can have more than one emotional support animal.
In fact, in some cases, a person may require multiple support animals for the treatment. Besides, in the United States, disabled people are eligible for equal opportunity.
However, the ADA does not acknowledge some situations where having multiple emotional support animals can be an issue.
It is quite obvious that an airline would not be able to provide sufficient space for three golden retrievers nor a small apartment would meet the needs of the owner and these support animals, right?
Keep in mind, if you are going to have multiple emotional support animals. You need to protect yourself by including multiple pets in your emotional support animal letter.
It is also important to specifically state what type of emotional stability each animal provides.
Emotional Support Animal Laws
After a long hectic day at work or in school, when you go home, your ESA comforts you by relieving stress. But keeping an ESA restricts the owners from certain places as it is not easy to find an animal-friendly place like a housing facility.
That is why there are federal laws to protect the ESA owners from any sort of discrimination.
The laws include Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA) and Fair Housing Act (FHA).