Emotional support dogs (ESAs) are defined as animals that offer comfort and support for individuals suffering from numerous types of emotional and mental conditions. Emotional support animals are technically different from service dogs in that they are not specially trained to help perform certain tasks.
Instead, emotional support dogs are more appropriate for providing affection and companionship. Emotional support animals have been known to help relieve the symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, fears and phobias, and bipolar disorder. It just breaks the surface of the varying emotional and psychological conditions they can help serve.
If you are looking to get an emotional support dog there are several things that you need to know. One of them is finding the correct emotional support dog vest. We will walk you through what it’s like to have an emotional support dog and the different types of vests and harnesses on the market.
About Emotional Support Dogs
An emotional support dog is a type of animal that a licensed mental health professional has determined can help support an individual with a mental or emotional disability. Support animals are different from service dogs in a few different ways.
The primary distinction is that service dogs receive more advanced training compared to support dogs. Emotional support animals do not require specific training. Instead, they are assessed based on personality if they will make good companion animals. Dogs that are outgoing, friendly, calm in demeanor and patient make the best types of emotional support canines.
If you want a more clear distinction between service dogs and emotional support dogs you could say that one is more appropriate for physical disabilities while the other serves mental health conditions. Service dogs are specially trained to perform certain tasks for their handler. For example, they help people that can’t see or hear live a normal daily life – more physical conditions than mental.
Meanwhile, emotional support animals are really great at providing love and affection. They do not have to perform different tasks for their handler. Their mere existence is enough to provide relief from anxiety, depression, fear, and trauma.
The general public also handles service dogs differently from emotional support dogs. Service dogs are protected by law to enter establishments that otherwise would not allow pets. Meanwhile, emotional support animals need permission from an establishment before entering it or they can get kicked out. However, there are some laws that also protect certain measures. We cover this in more detail, below.
One last separation between service animals and emotional support animals is how they work with people. Service dogs are strictly reserved to one on one interaction. Their vests often contain messages like “Service animal: Please do not pet”. They are not designed to be share. Instead, they fulfill certain obligations a person with a physical disability needs in order to function normally.
On the opposite spectrum, emotional support animals can work in groups. Emotional support dogs are often brought to large communities like a hospital or nursing home to provide love and attention to a number of different individuals.
Disabilities that Emotional Support Dogs Help
There are a number of different emotional issues and psychological problems that emotional support dogs can help aid. Here are some examples…
- General Anxiety Disorder: People that suffer from constant worry and fear are known to benefit greatly from support dogs. An ESA animal provides a lot of emotional support.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Dogs can help people overcome social anxiety issues that might otherwise prevent them from attending a gathering. The animal helps with self-confidence.
- Depression: Animals have been proven in multiple studies to help improve the lives of people of all ages that struggle with depression. Support animals are dependable and provide unconditional love and support.
- Phobias and Fears: People that struggle with intense phobias or particular fears can help get through worrisome situations with the assistance of an ESA.
- Panic Disorder: People that experience horrible panic attacks can help ease the symptoms when one occurs with a support animal.
- Bipolar Disorder: The psychological condition has been treated in part by offering a full-time emotional support dog. Dogs help provide stability for people with this unfortunate mental disorder.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD is a very serious condition that some leading mental health experts have had trouble correctly treating in the past. One method that seems to be working is getting someone that suffers from PTSD connected with an emotional support dog.
The list only breaks the surface of the various types of mental health problems ESA can serve.
About Emotional Dog Support Vests
An emotional dog support vest is designed to notify people in public places that the animal is more than just a regular pet. There are many establishments that have rules against animals being on the premise. Often it is for health regulation purposes such as restaurants not allowing pets.
Therefore, when a dog wears an emotional support vest or harness it properly notifies others of the purpose the animal serves. ESA animals are not allowed in public places automatically like service dogs, however, you can get approval if you ask for permission beforehand. There are other rules such as housing that protect ESA even if the general rules of the establishment do not allow pets.
When you begin shopping for a support dog vest there are a number of things to consider. For starters, you need to make sure you have the right measurements in order to verify the vest or harness will fit correctly. Emotional support animals may do a fair amount of walking in any given day so having a vest that is not constantly falling off or needing a readjustment is very important.
Most vests and harnesses designed for support dogs will tell you what sizes and breeds it can help support. Still, every dog is a little different so it helps to purchase a vest that has a series of adjustments in order to find the right fit.
In order to get the right measurements to use a flexible tape measure. Then measure the girth of the dog’s body. Measure both around the body as well as behind the forelimbs. Getting the body measurement from the broadest section of the rib cage will help ensure the fit is flexible enough to accommodate the widest area of the body.
The next step is to find the right type of material for the vest. Cotton is a popular choice yet it can make the dog hot in warmer climates. Synthetic fabrics are not advised as they tend to irritate dogs and their fur.
Identification of ESA
Not any type of dog harness or vest will suffice for emotional support animals. The vest must have the right type of patches to make the animal easily identifiable. The patches also must be different from the ones found on a service dog vest in order to distinguish the two types of therapy dogs.
You need a patch that indicates the dog is an ESA. Though not every citizen on the street or even business owner understands what it means to be ESA, the identification helps separate the animal from your traditional pet. When it is made clear to the manager or owner of a business establishment that the dog is ESA you may find someone more willing to allow the dog when in other situations they would say no with absolutely no exceptions.
Emotional support dogs are generally a little more outgoing or open to strangers giving them attention compared to service dogs, but the vest also helps keep everyone from immediately drowning the animal. Some ESA dogs may not react well to getting flooded with people, especially around their handler that they are protective of. So having the vest with the correct patches may inform children and adults that the pet shouldn’t be petted.
Types of ESA Vests
Along with selecting the type of material for the emotional support dog vest (more details, below), you will need to select a type. There are a few different common variations to decide upon:
- Regular Cape Vest: Cape vests are primarily designed for dogs with a body girth of between 26 to 34 inches. There are two different sizes (small or large) to select from within that body range. Cape dog vests are lightweight and usually have reflective material that is mesh trimmed. They are a universally good option.
- Tiny Cape Vest: The type of vest is comparable to a regular version only that it is produced for smaller dogs. The circumference of your ESA should be between 11 to 24 inches. Anybody size bigger than that is not appropriate. Like regular cape vests, they are generally reflective.
- Alpha Harness Dog Vest: These types of vests are considered a premium grade option. They are traditionally more expensive compared to cape vests. Alpha dog harness vests are more padded and produced with a poly-coated material. It makes the harness water resistant. Customers also have the choice of different patch sizes.
- Reflective Harness Dog Vest: Another premium option is a reflective harness for ESA. The design is usually a little more heavy duty compared to traditional cape dog vests. The reflective edging increases visibility in early mornings or nights. The ID or leashes can get attached to an assortment of welded rings. Reflective vests are usually sold between 24 and 42 inches.
Material of ESA Vests
There are four different types of emotional support dog vests that are the most common. Though you may find other types of fabric used for dog vests if it is not one of the four listed below you should probably ignore the offering.
These types of vests are specifically designed for emotional support animals and provide the most comfort and security:
- Lightweight Cotton Dog Vests: Cotton is flexible in that it is appropriate for all four seasons. While it can get hot for a dog in the middle of the summer, especially in warm climates, it makes up for it in the winter. Cotton vests are usually fairly lightweight and feature ID holders and other pockets.
- Mesh Dog Vests: Mesh is a really great material in that it is far more breathable compared to cotton. As a result, it generally is more appropriate in places that experience hot summers and higher than average temperatures for the rest of the year.
- Padded Dog Vests: Padded vests provide a little extra material for animals that are out in the weather a lot. They work well for hiking endeavors or long walks. They look a lot like a winter jacket which helps keep a dog warm in colder climates.
- Backpack Dog Vests: The type of ESA vest can be made out of mesh or cotton. The extra storage space works well for handlers that might have some extra needs. For example, students may use the extra pockets to carry lightweight books.
Buying an appropriate emotional support dog vest is important. It is not uncommon for handlers to invest in a couple of different types. For example, one may prefer having a cotton vest during the cooler months and then switch to a mesh style for the summer months.
Rules that Govern Emotional Support Dogs
It is important to note that an ESA vest or harness is not mandatory. However, it is a very good idea in order to provide quick identification when having a dog out in public. Furthermore, dog vests help keep animals safe during twilight hours with their reflective material.
ESA dog vests help keep animals distinguishable from other pets when traveling or accessing various buildings. Some establishments like airports are starting to require emotional support dogs to have clear identification.
The National Institute of Mental Health says that more than 1 in 4 adults in the United States struggle with some form of mental disorder. All of these people are entitled to have an emotional support animal.
ESA dogs do not need to get licensed like service dogs. The only thing that is required is a medical recommendation from a medical professional. Emotional support dogs are also protected under federal law.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) protects handlers from being treated unfairly regarding housing. It allows individuals to live with support dogs even in places that generally do not allow pets. Furthermore, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protects individuals with ESA and therefore they can travel with the support dog through the air.