They say dogs are man’s best friend. From the very beginning of recorded history, dogs have been there beside their masters, protecting them and keeping them company. This still holds true today more than ever—as emotional support dogs pose a measurable benefit to mental health.
If you’re thinking of getting an emotional support dog, you might be wondering if certain breeds are better than others in this line of work. Before we get into that information, though, it is good to remember that there is an exact definition for emotional support dog:
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that, without training, provides their owner with therapeutic benefits. Such emotional support can include alleviation of anxiety and panic attacks and offering companionship when the owner is in a depressive episode. The owner of an emotional support animal must receive a prescription from a licensed health professional that states he or she needs one.
Note that an emotional support animal is not the same as a therapy dog or service dog, but if you have an emotional support animal, it is often exempt from some no-pet policies that are prevalent in airplanes, hotels, and apartments. It might not be as efficient as having a doctor’s note saying you need a service dog, but if you have a prescription for an emotional support animal, most facilities can’t just bar you because you have a dog.
The Privileges of an Emotional Support Dog
If you can get an emotional support animal prescribed by a licensed health professional, you will enjoy the health benefits of having a pet intended to alleviate any emotional or mental disability you might have. Also, an emotional support animal has rights that ordinary pets will not have. Among these rights are:
- Access to any housing regardless of no-pet policies. The Fair House Act covers an emotional support animal so they must stay with their owners.
- Emotional support animals are permitted to fly with their owner inside the airplane cabin instead of stowed in the cargo compartment. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, they must be kept together with their owners inside the aircraft.
- An emotional support animal owner can’t be charged an additional fee for housing or airplane access. After all, the emotional support animal is not just a pet, but a medical treatment.
Remember always to have a doctor’s letter that prescribes your emotional support animal and any other official documentation, such as a registration ID, on hand. Some unsavory people pretend that their pets are emotional support animals to save some money or circumvent restrictions on pets. In fact, there are so many of them that many business owners and landlords will no longer accept a claim that a pet is an emotional support animal at face value.
Can I Have an Emotional Support Animal
As stated, an emotional support animal is not just some pet—it is a medically approved form of therapy. Just because you own a pet and you want it to be an emotional support animal doesn’t mean it will be so. You need to meet specific criteria to obtain a prescription from a licensed health provider to classify your pet as an emotional support animal.
In simple terms, the applicant must suffer from emotional or mental illness. Among the qualifying diseases are:
- Learning Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Manic-Depressive disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD
- General Anxiety Disorder
If you have any of these conditions, you may qualify for an emotional support animal. Visit a licensed therapist for a consultation to begin the process. They can provide you with a letter to support your claim.
Best Breeds for Emotional Support
Virtually all dog breeds can give their humans emotional support, but some excel in this role more than others. These are dogs who are well-behaved at home and in public, have a laid-back personality, and a gentle spirit. These traits are ideal to perform the job of an emotional support animal, and they are more common in certain breeds. Here are five ideal candidates for an emotional support animal:
American Pit Bull Terrier
Don’t let the name scare you—the pit bull is a gentle animal. Its poor reputation comes from unfortunate incidents where the dog received no training or worse, was trained to do bad deeds in fighting rings in the past. Most pit bulls are friendly, devoted dogs which will be ideal for providing emotional support.
Labradors are great as emotional support dogs, therapy dogs, and mobility assistance dogs. They are a devoted breed eager to please their owners. Thus, it is no wonder that many doctors prefer this breed as the animal of choice for an emotional support animal.
Retrievers are ideal emotional support animals for people who suffer from depression or dysthymia. They like to go outdoors and are an active breed, so the owner will likely have to accommodate the dog’s wishes and go out to see the world now and then. They are also highly trainable.
Corgis aren’t just great for the fact that Queen Elizabeth considers them her favorite breed. They can also be magnificent emotional support animals because they are affectionate, intelligent, and can take to training rather well.
Like the Labrador, the Corgi is, surprisingly, an active animal that wants to go out and exercise. The tendency to want to exercise will work wonders for anyone who would like a good reason to be more active themselves.
Since the above two picks are active dogs, let’s try a dog that wants to stay home—Chihuahuas. Their small size and apparent vulnerability make the owner of a Chihuahua emotional support animal want to care for and protect them. Thus, they are ideal for those whose emotional problems stem from a lack of trust and empathy. Chihuahua, by its appearance, needs a lot of love and care. Many owners begin to view them like small children. As such, they can be a great fit for those suffering from loss-related mental issues.
Moving on from a tiny dog to one of the most imposing commercial breeds, a German Shepard is a large and intelligent companion. Their role as shepherds has trained them to be kind. They are hard-working and eager to please humans with whom they love interacting.
The German Shepherd is a very active dog, and it will challenge its owner to move about and be active as well. When properly trained, the German Shepherd is an excellent outdoor companion, but there should be an emphasis on adequately trained because Shepherds are guard dogs by nature.
Training Requirements for an Emotional Support Dog
Your emotional support animal is not a service dog, so it does not require extensive training. You do want to invest in basic training that allows your dog to be in public places without incident, though. An emotional support animal must not cause harm or disturbance to anyone in public or when traveling. Essentially, any reasonably trained dog with an even temper can qualify as an emotional support animal.
Although not required by law, you should still consider spaying or neutering your emotional support animal to prevent it from exhibiting aggression that comes with heat or being around a female dog in heat.
Registering Your Emotional Service Animal
As mentioned, due to the unfortunate abuse of emotional support animal benefits, many establishments are starting to doubt the validity of claims regarding emotional support animals. You will want some form of proof, such as a doctor’s note or ID from US Service Animals.
Your doctor’s letter is the official documentation that states that you are a person who was prescribed an emotional support animal and that your dog is not just a pet.
Registration is easy, follow this link to the US Service Animals website to register your emotional support animal, and pay the fee. Within three weeks or less, you will receive your emotional support animal’s registration.
US Service Animals registration is valid in all 50 states. Another benefit is that your emotional support animal will be added to the National Service Animal registry database. In the unlikely chance that the airline you board does not recognize the US Service Animals ID, they can check the national registry of service animals to assuage their doubts.
Finally, you may apply for emotional support animal lifetime registration so that you will never have to worry about having to re-register your emotional support animal again.
An emotional support dog is great to have when you are suffering from emotional trauma or have a mental illness that requires you to seek more emotional support than what usually is available. There are plenty of breeds to choose from, but the best breed for you is going to depend on your individual needs and preferences.
Ideally, aim for a breed that is high trainable, intelligent, and eager to please. High-maintenance breeds aren’t advised. Once you find the perfect dog, be sure to obtain the proper documentation to keep your new friend by your side at all times.