Dogs have long been called man’s best friend. These amazing creatures have played a vital role in the development of our civilizations and continue to make a huge impact on our daily lives. In the past, dogs were considered essential companions for daily existence for people from all walks of life such as farmers, hunters, and merchants.
Today, the importance of a companion dog is finding new meaning as many people are finding immense comfort from the presence of their pets which allows them to feel empowered to take back control of their lives.
What is a Companion Dog?
Also called emotional support dogs, companion dogs function as constant partners in the daily lives of those who find themselves suffering from anxiety or emotional distress on their own. Companion dogs can help anxiety sufferers gain a sense of freedom and independence which allows them to take on their daily lives with a sense of security and wellbeing. With the presence of a companion dog, many owners feel calmed in situations that might otherwise paralyze them with anxiety or depression.
The support provided by a companion dog can be as simple as a reassuring presence offered by a loving animal. Dogs are amazing creatures that have evolved over time to understand their master’s needs and feelings and can react to changes in the mood of their owners. Even companion dogs who aren’t trained specifically for the task are capable of providing their owners with a deep sense of comfort and security with their mere presence. Many owners of companion dogs feel stronger in the company of their animals and are emboldened to take on tasks that might otherwise be too daunting to do on their own.
Who Needs Companion Dogs?
Companion dogs are especially useful for anxiety and depression sufferers who feel a sense of comfort from the presence of their animal. Oftentimes, companion dogs are recommended or prescribed by doctors for their patients who suffer from anxiety disorders and have difficulties getting through their daily lives due to them. Companion dogs can help improve the quality of life of their owners by giving them back a sense of independence and some freedom from their disorder.
If you suffer from emotional difficulties or anxiety disorders and you are a dog lover, you should speak with your doctor about the possibility of a companion dog to see if they think it would be the right fit for you. It’s important to understand that while companion dogs can be great aids in improving the quality of your life, they are also living beings themselves that require a responsible owner capable of providing them with safety and the necessities for their own health and wellbeing. This responsibility can be an important aspect to owning a companion dog as it gives the person who suffers from emotional disorders something to focus on other than themselves.
Obviously, this added responsibility might be stressful for some or a much-needed outlet for someone to express their feelings towards another life form. Whether a companion dog would have a net positive impact on your life or negative is entirely up to you and your sensibilities. The decision to adopt any animal should never be taken lightly, but bringing a companion dog into your life could prove to be one of the best decisions you ever make.
Once you and your doctor have decided that a companion dog would be a good fit for your lifestyle and emotional needs, it’s important to understand the process of qualifying for and obtaining one.
Qualifying for a Companion Dog
Unlike with qualifying for a service dog, emotional support animals and companion dog qualifications are much less rigorous. In fact, companion dogs have no specific qualification requirements. Companion dogs are often used to help those who suffer from anxiety, depression, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or even substance abuse issues.
Not only are there no special qualifications necessary for you to get permission to have a companion dog, but there are also no special qualifications which your animal must meet. In fact, emotional support animals can be any kind of animal. Companion dogs do not need special training nor do they have to adhere to any strict guidelines. The primary concern with a companion dog (or any emotional support animal) is that the animal be well-behaved and not very messy.
This is important when it comes to the next section concerning companion dogs and pet policies when out in the world with your animal.
Companion Dogs and No Pet Policies
Thanks to the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), those with recognized disabilities can not be discriminated against and this includes those who have emotional issues and require the presence of their companion dogs at all times. The Fair Housing Act protects owners of companion dogs due to the fact that these animals are not technically considered “pets”. Therefore, even places that have ‘no pet’ policies have to respect the needs of a disabled person and allow them to keep their companion dog with them.
This is not a blanket protection against being asked to leave however as the owner or landlord of the establishment is only required to make reasonable accommodations to you and your companion dog. If your companion dog isn’t well-behaved and causes excessive noise or damages the property, you can still be legally asked to leave. This is why it’s important to make your companion dog doesn’t cause disturbances and is kept neat and clean.
In order to be able to keep your companion dog with you even in places where animals would otherwise not be permitted, you need to have the support and approval of a physician. Having a companion dog prescription letter will help ease the process of gaining access to locations with your companion dog in tow.
Breeds of Companion Dogs
Companion dogs can come in all shapes and sizes and breeds! The best breed for each person is unique to their preferences, needs, and ability to provide care for the animal. Some people prefer to have smaller companion dogs because they can be stowed under the owner’s seat as a carry-on on airplanes and are generally easier to travel with. Others find more comfort in the presence of a larger animal and don’t mind that their companion dog takes up a bit more space than other breeds.
Some of the more common breeds of companion dogs are:
This breed is happy, energetic, and renowned for its gentle nature and loyalty. Labs are great companion dogs thanks to their intelligence and high capacity for learning trained behaviors. Their size allows them to provide a sturdy and reliable presence, but they aren’t ideal for those who travel often as special accommodations will need to be made for them since they won’t be able to fit under a seat.
These animals have many great benefits such as being highly intelligent, excellent with people, and being hypoallergenic thanks to their non-shedding coat. Poodles also have a fairly long lifespan which makes them great companion dogs that will stay with you for a long time. Poodles require regular grooming due to their non-shedding coat which is constantly growing. They need to be detangled and have their hair trimmed to avoid getting mats and knots in their fur.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Named after King Charles II, these loving little pups were bred as loyal companion dogs for nobility. There are also some hybrid breeds that feature the Cavalier such as the Cavapoo which is a mix between Cavaliers and Poodles which have the benefits of the Poodle intelligence and hypoallergenic coat. Cavaliers are smaller in stature and can make great companion dogs thanks to their portability and loving nature. These are a better choice for those who might find themselves traveling regularly.
Flying With Your Companion Dog
Until recently, ESAs could travel in the cabin of an airplane thanks to the Air Carrier Access Act. However, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has revised the act so that emotional support animals are no longer included. Now, it is legal for airlines to turn away ESAs and require them to travel in cargo instead of in the cabin.
If you wish for your pet to travel with you in the cabin of an airplane, you have two options. The first depends on the size of your dog. If your dog is small enough to meet the carry-on limits for weight and dimension, it may be possible to bring your dog in a carrier to be stowed under your seat. Of course, this will not be free and the airline is entitled to deny your dog from being transported as a carry-on.
The only other way for your dog to travel with you in the cabin is for it to be considered a psychiatric service animal (PSA). A psychiatric service animal is different from an ESA because it has been trained to perform certain tasks that aid an individual with their disability. For example, a PSA dog might be taught to lick or paw at an anxiety patient in order to help ground them. You can train a PSA by yourself, but you may benefit from going through some sort of program as airlines can now require you to fill out forms before allowing your service dog to fly with you. These forms, developed by the DOT, often ask for the dog trainer’s name and phone number.
Legitimizing Your Companion Dog
Getting an official companion dog certificate will help you gain access to all kinds of places without being challenged. While emotional support animal vests and tags are not required, they can go a long way in avoiding potential issues and being challenged by employees. Anything you can do to avoid confrontation is ideal because there are so many people who don’t understand companion dog laws and the rules that allow you to have your animal with you at all times.
One of the best ways to have your companion dog look as official and professional as possible is by registering your animal with a service like USSA’s emotional support animal registration process.
Registration and IDs for Companion Dogs
Getting your companion dog registered will provide you with an animal ID card that has a photo of your companion dog as well as legal information for quickly explaining to other people what your rights are. Having this ID card is not required, but it will aid you greatly in avoiding conflict and gaining access to places with your companion dog which you are legally allowed to enter. Not everyone is fully aware of the laws, so being able to calmly and easily explain what the laws are to those who aren’t aware will go a long way in helping you carry on with your daily activities alongside your companion dog.
Registering your dog as an official companion dog or emotional support animal can be done easily using this USSA form. In addition to receiving an Animal ID Card, you will also be provided with legal aid from USSA’s on-staff attorneys in the case of your rights being infringed upon. Furthermore, registration with USSA will also give you access to the ability to receive a Prescription Letter for your companion dog from a licensed mental health practitioner. You can also receive a vest, collar tag, and leash which will further legitimize your companion dog in the eyes of others.
Oftentimes, the official appearance of your companion dog will avoid being challenged altogether as people have learned to accept the presence of service animals in recent years. Being able to carry on with your regular life aided by the comforting presence of your companion dog is an amazing feeling that will help embolden you to take back control of your life. You can make the most of your companion dog by officially registering your animal and getting documents that explain your rights for others to easily view.
Companion dogs provide amazing benefits to people who suffer from all kinds of mental disorders and may be a fantastic opportunity for vastly improving your quality of life through their presence.