For emotional and mental health, emotional support dogs are one of the most effective treatments—yet the least mentioned. Emotional support dogs, or ESDs, do not need as much or as rigorous training as a service dog, but there are considerations and requirements for your dog to become an ESD.
An ESD provides support through the following means: companionship, ease of anxiety, assistance for depression and certain phobias, etc. It is essential to follow all requirements, rules, and regulations when becoming a pet parent for an ESD. Let’s explore all things related to emotional training for dogs and becoming a responsible pet parent.
What Defines an Emotional Support Dog?
Emotional service animals, where ESD falls, are pets recommended by your therapist for certain psychological symptoms. Specifically, these psychological symptoms manifest through an emotional or mental disability. The dogs are meant solely for unconditional love and emotional stability.
ESDs have certain rights that ordinary pets do not receive, but less than a service dog for disabilities. These rights include:
- Under the Fair Housing Act, ESDs can live with their pet parents—even in areas where pets are not allowed.
- Under the Air Carrier Access Act, ESDs can ride airplanes with their pet parents in the cabin.
- Providers must waive fees under both laws.
Federal Law protects ESDs and their pet parent’s rights. If you plan to get an ESD, it’s recommended you become familiar it these laws.
Qualifications for Having an Emotional Support Dog
Certain emotional or mental health conditions qualify an individual for an ESD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as 25% of individuals in the United States have disabilities that qualify for an ESD.
Mental health care providers must provide long-term guidance vis-à-vis taking care of both the ESD and mental health patient’s welfare.
Certain mental health conditions such as Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, Anxiety Disorders (General and Severe), Learning Disorders, Mood Disorders (Bipolar and Depression), Cognitive Disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are some of the conditions that qualify for an emotional support dog.
These conditions, even without the prescription of a specialist, can be acquired through an ESA letter online.
Qualities of an Emotional Support Dog
Dogs that are too excited or too shy can prove more difficult to train for certain emotional support tasks. Depending on what duties you intend to have your ESD perform, personality and trainability should be considered. Canines around a year-old that are laid-back yet responsive are the kind of dogs that are ideal to be trained and grow into the role. To ensure that the dog will be there when most needed, you must find that specific “instant connection” and “true bond.”
Benefits of an Emotional Support Dog
Some benefits, especially for depressed individuals, including having a sense of responsibility when it comes to taking good care of an ESD. Individuals with mood disorders tend to be reclusive. An ESD will force you to get dressed, feed the dog, take the dog out for a walk, and even leave home more frequently. Owning an ESD breaks the negative routine and the negative emotions attached to depression and anxiety.
Also, your therapist will get to know you better. By understanding the routine and the improvements attached to having an ESD, your psychotherapist will gain more insight into what is going on with your mental health. Your therapist will also know if an ESD is a very effective therapy to deal with your mental health condition.
Choosing an Emotional Support Dog
Before you decide on your next emotional support dog-in-training, you must be willing to do extensive research and canvassing (or visits) of potential candidates.
Any breed and any size dog can become an ESD, but according to the nature and research of certain breeds, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, and the Goldendoodle are more “teachable” breeds than others. At the end of the day, though, it’s all up to you as to what breed and puppy you are most comfortable to have beside you each day.
Once you pick the puppy of your liking, you must teach him or her the basics—sit, stay, down, heel, come, etc. These instructions will come in handy as you and your dog face outside environments such as airplane cabins and residential areas. The younger you start, the more likely your puppy will handle training well and avoid annoying and bad habits in public. Such habits include barking, jumping, begging for food, and lunging. This kind of discipline for your ESD will avoid the same thing you are trying to address—stress.
If you feel like you are not up for the job of training your puppy to become an ESD, you must immediately seek help from friends, family, or even a professional trainer to assist and guide you in going through dog classes.
Training Your Dog to Calm Your Anxiety
The kind of therapy an ESD for anxiety provides is called Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) consisting of the dog placing pressure on your chest or abdomen. This kind of non-medicated treatment is a supplement for the current medications people with mental health conditions have. DPT has proven to be very effective in people with stress, anxiety, mood disorders, autism, and self-harming behaviors.
The gentle pressure that the DPT applies will avoid self-harm and calm both stress and anxiety.
Training for the process is rather simple, and much like the process of training a dog to “come,” except the dog is also taught to climb into your lap or on your chest. The use of treats, a clicker, or other positive reinforcement is recommended.
Training Requirements for Emotional Support Dogs
There are only two requirements for emotional support dogs. They don’t need as much extensive training as service dogs, but they need to comply with the following:
- Your emotional support dog must be obedient.
- Your emotional support dog must be well-behaved in all places, including your home and while inside an airplane cabin. This includes even simple things like ensuring your dog is housebroken.
Although not falling as a requirement, your emotional support dog may also benefit from being neutered or spayed as this avoids mating-related aggressive behaviors.
Registration Requirements for Emotional Support Dogs
There is no requirement whatsoever in registering an ESD under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Registration, though, helps in dealing with cabin crew, airlines, and landlords. There is also a custom-animal handler ID card or certificate for this purpose. Even though not required, some building owners and their staff are trained to ask for this card or certificate.
What is an Emotional Support Dog Certificate?
ESA (Emotional Support Animal) letters are commonly known as Emotional Support Dog Certificates. A licensed mental health professional can provide this ESA letter. The ESA letter basically “recommends” the need for an emotional support animal. The ESA letters must meet the following guidelines:
The ESA Letter should
- Not be dated later than one year of submission
- Be in your therapist or psychiatrist’s official letterhead
- Have inclusions such as, but not limited to
- Certification that the pet parent is qualified for an ESD
- Certification that the pet parent possesses a condition under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders (Version IV or V)
- A recommendation that the disability hinders the pet parent to perform at least one of the major activities of life
- The prescription that an ESD is needed
- Therapist’s license number
- Date of recommendation
- Direct contact information
The validity of ESD letters in airplane cabins can’t be more than one year from the date of recommendation. Thus, this is also an opportunity for dog parents to see their therapists regularly to update the status of their ESD annually.
ESA letters make your emotional support dog’s status legitimate. Otherwise, landlords and airlines might not honor and even respect your rights and privileges as a pet parent.
Does an Emotional Support Dog Need a Vest?
There are no special vests for ESDs. However, an ESD vest will surely identify your ESD as a “working dog.” It will also eliminate questions and confusion from the public eye.
Where Your ESD Can Go
If it’s an outside environment such as restaurants, markets, or any place where there is food, your ESD can’t enter the premises. Health regulations and concerns are of the utmost importance when dealing with ESDs. Even if employees might want to let your ESD enter the premises, they still are obliged to turn your ESD away for the avoidance of breaking health laws.
This is in contrast with service dogs, which legally can’t be prohibited from these spaces. Keep in mind that, in the eyes of the law, a service dog and an emotional support dog are not the same.
Breed and Weight Restrictions—Are There Any?
Any size and breed can fit into the criteria. Even Dobermans and Pit Bulls can be ESDs. If your therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist recommends more than one ESD, you are free to be a dog parent for two or more dogs. Of course, what kind of ESD you get will often fall to personal preference because more often than not, your ESD is also going to be your closest companion.
Registration is easy. Simply follow this link to the US Service Animals website to register your emotional support animal and pay the fee. Within a few weeks, you will receive your emotional support animal’s registration.
Your registration is valid in all 50 states, and your emotional support animal will be included in the National Service Animal registry database. In the unlikely chance that the airline you will board does not recognize the US Service Animals registration; they can check the national registry to assuage their doubts. US Service Animals also offers doctor’s letters for landlord and airline use if you feel the registration ID card may not be sufficient.
What paperwork you will be asked to provide often varies by the individual. Some landlords, for instance, are more accepting of emotional support dogs than others. Just remember, if you have medical proof of your need for an emotional support companion, your landlord can not refuse to let you keep the dog. A no-pets policy has no bearing on this point. Know your rights ahead of time. Your ID card from US Service Animals will also include relevant legal information you can refer any opposition to should you run into an issue.
Summing It Up
Emotional support dogs are generally beneficial when trained well. Having an ESD is both a privilege and a responsibility—but one that could generally improve your mental health. ESDs are generally recommended for people suffering from a mental health condition.
As a future pet parent of an ESD, you must be aware that there are a lot of government regulations that enable and hinder you from bringing your ESD to certain places. Such places where you can bring an ESD include airplane cabins and housing units, regardless of no-pet policies. Also, take note that you can’t bring ESDs to other public places such as restaurants for health concerns. You will find being armed with a registration card to prove your dog is not just a pet very helpful.
ESDs are non-medicinal alternatives apart from psychotropic medications. They focus on presence, support, empathy, and touch to make one feel better. These are the very same ingredients that make ESDs unique as a therapeutic approach.
If training an ESD becomes cumbersome, don’t hesitate to approach a training professional, family, and friends. An ESD can’t do its job without being behaved and controllable in public, and so, a dog can’t become an ESD without the necessary training to handle public situations.
Don’t hesitate to discuss with your doctor whether an ESD is an option for you. ESDs are very beneficial to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. One thing is certain, no matter why, adding a dog to your family is a surefire way to change your life for the better.