Emotional Support Dogs: Everything You Need To Know

ESA Pet Staff

Updated on - Written by


A dog is more than just a furry friend. They provide unconditional love, devoted companionship, and unwavering support. As you can probably imagine, owning a dog and spending time with them can do wonders for your well-being. 

Dogs make us healthier, happier, and can help us cope with a stressful crisis. There are even science-backed mental health benefits of having a dog. For example, research shows that dog ownership and interaction can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

If your canine companion helps you cope with any emotional struggles, it may qualify as an emotional support dog. Emotional support dogs offer more than just standard companionship. They provide key therapeutic benefits for various mental and emotional health conditions. 

In this article, we explore everything you need to know about emotional support dogs. This includes the difference between emotional support animals and service animals, the benefits of having emotional support animals, how to get an emotional support animal, and the best breeds to consider for emotional support dogs.

What Is an Emotional Support Dog? 

What Is an Emotional Support Dog? 

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides comfort and emotional support to individuals struggling with some kind of mental health condition. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an emotional support animal encompasses animals from all species and breeds. Therefore, an emotional support dog falls into a broader category of an emotional support animal. 

Navigating life with a disabling mental or emotional condition can be very difficult. Simply put, the presence of an emotional support animal, such as an emotional support dog, can make it a little easier. An emotional support dog can help to alleviate some of the negative symptoms associated with the condition. 

To legally be considered an emotional support dog, the pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional that can vouch for your disabling mental illness. This person can be a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a therapist. 

Further, they must evaluate you and determine whether having an emotional support dog will benefit your wellbeing. For example, having an emotional support dog might ease an individual’s anxiety or depression. The dog can be of any breed or age. 

Emotional Support Dog vs. Service Dog

Emotional support animals (ESAs), such as emotional support dogs, provide support through companionship. In doing so, they can ease symptoms that come with mental illnesses, including such as depression, anxiety, and certain phobias.

However, emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that ESAs are not eligible to receive the same benefits and privileges as service dogs. 

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, a service dog is individually trained to do work or perform certain tasks for individuals with disabilities. For example, some service dogs are trained to guide the visually impaired, and others are trained to alert the hearing impaired. Psychiatric service dogs, on the other hand, could be trained to apply pressure on someone who is suffering from a panic attack.

The ADA clearly states that animals who simply provide emotional comfort and support do not qualify as service dogs. Therefore, the major difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs is that one is purely for emotional support, while the other is trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Some state and local laws have broader definitions and may allow public access to ESAs. 

The Benefits of Having an Emotional Support Dog

There are many benefits you will enjoy with an emotional support dog. Here is a brief look at some of the special privileges afforded to emotional support animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act,

Housing Accommodation For Emotional Support Dogs 

With an emotional support animal, you are provided with certain accommodations under federal law. For example, the Fair Housing Act states that people cannot be discriminated against due to a disability when considering housing. The FCA has a broad definition of assistance animals, meaning it includes ESAs. 

This means that certain rules, like no-pet policies or restrictions, must be waived for people with emotional support dogs. There are no limitations on breeds, weight, etc. 

Further, landlords and property managers cannot charge a pet fee or deposit for an ESA. In the case of emotional support animals, federal laws prohibit them from doing so. Some of the charges they have to waive for you include monthly pet fees, pet insurance deposits, and pet surcharges.

Emotional Support Dogs on Flights

Up until December 2020, it was free to fly with emotional support animals on airlines. However, recent changes by the Department of Transportation indicate that airlines may recognize emotional support animals as pets or as service animals. There are still ESA-friendly airlines that are happy to accommodate emotional support animals on flights.

Many airlines will require passengers with emotional support dogs to complete certain forms prior to travel that confirms the dog’s health, behavior, and certification. All you have to do is call the airline and ask if there is special documentation required for your emotional support dog.

More Access in Public Areas

A service dog, such as a guide dog or psychiatric service dog, is typically allowed anywhere the public is allowed. Emotional support animals are not given the same federal protections as service animals. For example, ESAs generally cannot accompany their owners into restaurants, supermarkets, or malls. 

Emotional support dogs still provide significant therapeutic benefits to their owner’s mental or emotional condition. Many public places, such as hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets, are willing to accommodate emotional support dogs with proof of a legitimate ESA letter

The process of getting an emotional support animal such as an emotional support dog is very simple. All you need is an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional.

With this letter, any dog, including those you already have in your home can be an emotional support animal.

This is because emotional support dogs don’t require any training. You need them purely for emotional support.

Emotional Support Dog Eligibility

To qualify for an emotional support animal, you must have a mental illness, emotional condition, or a psychological issue. 

Some of the eligible conditions include anxiety, depression, social phobia, bipolar disorder, extreme stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum depression, and more.

How to Get an Emotional Support Dog 

If you feel that you would benefit from an emotional support dog, you will need to speak with a licensed mental health professional and obtain a legitimate ESA letter. Getting an ESA with ESA Pet is super quick and easy. 

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Free Pre-Screening Questionnaire 

The first step toward getting an ESA letter is to fill out a three-minute survey. This serves as a pre-screening to determine whether you’re an eligible candidate for an emotional support animal. 

The pre-screening questionnaire only takes a few minutes to complete. It can be used for emotional support dogs, cats, and other domestic animals. 

Step 2: Licensed Mental Health Professional Consultation 

If the pre-screening determines that you qualify for an ESA, you will then be connected to a licensed mental health professional for a telehealth consultation

The mental health expert will determine if an emotional support dog would serve as a beneficial treatment and help ease the symptoms concerning your mental or emotional disability. 

For example, they will evaluate whether an animal will help you relax while in public areas, ease anxiety, offer relief from depression, etc. 

Step 3: Receive Your ESA Letter

If the licensed mental health professional determines that an emotional support animal will help you cope with the symptoms of your mental disability, they will prescribe an ESA letter.

The ESA letter will be issued on official letterhead and include the professional’s licensing information. It will also be signed and dated by the prescribing doctor. 

Summary: Get Your ESA Letter From ESA Pet 

We provide you with a simple, quick, and easy process to get your ESA letter.

  • Step One: Take a three-minute survey on our website.
  • Step Two: Get a quick consultation over the phone with a licensed mental health professional in your area.
  • Step Three: Upon successful consultation with the therapist, we will send your ESA letter within 24 hours or less. 

The Laws that Protect Emotional Support Dogs

There are certain federal laws that govern travel and housing protections for emotional support animals. If you have an emotional support dog, they are worth knowing.  

Fair Housing Act

According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords and property managers cannot discriminate against tenants with service dogs or emotional support dogs. This simply means that housing providers must provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities and allow them to live with an assistance animal in their home. 

The Fair Housing Act also prohibits landlords and property managers from imposing a pet fee or a pet deposit for emotional support animals, psychiatric service dogs, or other types of service dogs. For example, if you’re looking to obtain housing with a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support dog, you will not have to pay any fees.

Further, landlords cannot legally ask for detailed medical records or ​​require that the animal receive specific training. Your ESA letter is the only proof you need. 

Air Carrier Access Act

Emotional support dogs also enjoy some rights when it comes to traveling. However, the Department of Transportation made some significant changes to these protections back in 2021.

Before the recent changes to the Air Carrier Access Act, emotional support animals could travel on a plane for no additional cost. While service animals still receive these protections, support animals do not. 

Luckily, there are still pet-friendly airlines that permit emotional support animals. Simply call the airline before your flight and ask about their policies and requirements concerning an emotional support animal.

Best Breeds for Emotional Support Dogs

Best Breeds for Emotional Support Dogs

All dog breeds qualify to become emotional support animals. The most important factors to consider is temperament and their connection with you.

For example, your dog at home may make for an excellent emotional support dog. You two probably already have a strong bond, meaning the dog can then offer better comfort and security compared to a completely new dog. 

If you are thinking of getting a new dog, here are some of the top breeds for emotional support dogs: 

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular family dogs. They are very friendly, loving, patient, and highly trainable. These unique attributes make them wonderful emotional support animals.

Great Danes

Great Danes have calm and confident personalities. They also have large, yet gentle physiques. In general, they are very affectionate toward their owners and can help with various types of mental illnesses.

Irish Wolfhound

The Irish Wolfhound is another great choice if you need an emotional support dog to help you with an emotional or mental illness. They are sensitive, natural protectors. While they don’t have a long lifespan, you will still love every moment spent with them.

Corgi

Corgis are highly affectionate dogs. They are fairly active and very accommodating. If you are looking for a breed that can easily go into public places, then a corgi is a great option. 

Collie

A collie is another breed that would make an excellent therapy dog, companion animal, or assistance animal. They are primarily herding dogs, meaning they will constantly check to see if you are secure and happy. Since they need a lot of exercise, Collies are perfect companions for your outdoor adventures.

Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terriers might be small in size, but they are both confident and affectionate. They are loyal, loving dogs that would make great emotional support dogs. If you need emotional support while flying on an airplane, Yorkies are very easy to travel with. 

Labrador Retriever

Labradors are one of the best dog breeds to help with emotional and mental struggles. They are gentle, friendly, and always eager to please. Overall, Labrador Retrievers make for great companions. 

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is another great option for an emotional support dog. They have friendly temperaments and loving personalities. They love to cuddle and are always eager to show affection toward their owners.

Emotional Support Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a brief look at some of the frequently asked questions for emotional support dogs. 

How Long Does It Take To Get an ESA Letter?

You could receive your ESA letter within 24 hours after the evaluation with a licensed mental health expert. At ESA Pet, you can get a copy through our website or you can choose to receive a physical copy in the mail. 

Do Emotional Support Animals Need to Be Professionally Trained?

No. Emotional support animals do not require any training. According to ADA, only service dogs require professional training.

Can I Fly With My Emotional Support Dog?

This will vary from airline to airline. Some airlines will allow you to fly with your emotional support animal at no additional cost. Others consider ESAs as normal pets and require that you pay a pet fee. Be sure to confirm with the airline before booking.

ESA Pet Staff