Emotional Support Dogs: Everything You Need To Know
Dogs are wonderful companions. They motivate us to go out for walks, entertain us with their antics, and accompany us on the couch to watch Netflix. However, emotional support dogs offer much more than standard companionship.
An emotional support animal dog is a critical companion for someone dealing with mental or emotional conditions. The presence of an emotional support dog provides therapeutic benefits that can help ease anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other forms of mental health conditions. If your furry friend enables you to cope with emotional struggles, it may qualify as an emotional support animal dog.
In this article, you’ll learn 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 (ESD)?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides comfort and emotional support to individuals struggling with mental health conditions. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an emotional support animal comprises 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. But the presence of an emotional support animal, like 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 must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional who can vouch for your disabling mental illness. This person can be a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a therapist.
Additionally, they must evaluate you and determine whether having an emotional support dog will benefit your well-being. 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 of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and specific phobias.
It’s essential to know that emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA. Therefore, ESAs are not eligible for the same benefits and privileges as service dogs.
According to the ADA, a service dog is trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. For example, some service dogs are trained to guide the visually impaired, while others are trained to alert the hearing impaired. On the other hand, psychiatric service dogs could be trained to apply pressure on someone suffering from a panic attack.
The ADA clearly states that animals primarily providing emotional comfort and support do not qualify as service dogs. Therefore, the main difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs is that one is purely for emotional support. In contrast, 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.
Emotional Support Dogs Are Not Psychiatric Service Dogs
Emotional Support Dogs (ESDs) aren’t considered psychiatric service dogs under the ADA since they’re not trained to perform specific tasks directly related to a psychiatric disability. They’re primarily focused on providing emotional support and companionship. ESDs aren’t legally required to undergo specific training.
By contrast, psychiatric service dogs (PTSDs) are specially trained to assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities. That means PTSDs can perform specific tasks directly related to a person’s psychiatric disability. For example, PTSDs can be trained to block a person in dissociative episodes from wandering into traffic. The dog’s primary role is to help the owner accomplish vital tasks they otherwise may not be able to perform independently.
The ADA doesn’t give emotional support dog owners the same rights or privileges that it grants psychiatric service dog owners. For example, while psychiatric service dogs are allowed to accompany their owners to most public places, such as a movie theater, for example, emotional support dogs are not. Simply put, unless a dog is trained to recognize and respond to a psychiatric disability, the dog is not considered a psychiatric service dog and therefore does not receive the same ADA protections.
The Laws That Protect Emotional Support Dogs
There are specific federal laws that govern travel and housing protections for emotional support animals. If you have an emotional support dog, these laws are worth knowing.
Fair Housing Act (FHA)
According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords and property managers cannot discriminate against tenants with service dogs or emotional support dogs. As such, 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 (ACAA)
Emotional support dogs used to enjoy some rights when it comes to traveling. However, the Department of Transportation made significant changes to these protections in 2021.
Before the ACAA changes, 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. Call the airline before your flight and ask about their policies and requirements concerning an emotional support animal.
Are Emotional Support Dogs Allowed on Flights?
Before December 2020, emotional support animals were allowed on flights in the United States. Back then, emotional support dogs were recognized as service dogs. Unfortunately, as of January 11, 2021, most airlines no longer recognize ESDs as service animals.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has revised its rules and regulations regarding service animals on flights, excluding ESDs from the definition of a service animal.
The revised regulations state that only dogs individually trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability are recognized as service animals. These dogs are still allowed to accompany their handlers in an aircraft cabin, provided they meet certain requirements, such as being under control, being harnessed or leashed, and not occupying a seat.
Still, the DOT’s new rules allow airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets or service animals. That means an emotional support animal dog may now be able to fly under the specific airline’s standard pet policies. There are ESA-friendly airlines that are happy to accommodate emotional support animals on flights. All you have to do is call the airline and ask if special documentation is required for your emotional support dog.
ESDs in Other 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, can accommodate emotional support dogs with proof of a legitimate ESA letter.
Getting an emotional support animal like 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 dog, you must have a mental illness, emotional condition, or psychological issue. Some eligible conditions include anxiety, depression, social phobia, bipolar disorder, extreme stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum depression, and more.
Benefits of Having an ESD for Each Condition:
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
Individuals with ADD are often unable to maintain attention and focus. In such a situation, an ESD can help improve focus by providing a calming presence or a grounding point during hyperactivity. For instance, when someone with ADD finds it difficult to concentrate, colluding or petting an ESD can help redirect attention and promote a sense of calm.
Learning disorders can lead to frustration, anxiety, and stress, especially when faced with academic challenges. Interacting with an ESD can help reduce stress levels by promoting relaxation. For example, a person with a learning disorder can take short breaks during studying or tasks to engage with their ESD, helping them alleviate stress and promote a positive emotional state.
Difficulties managing emotions, sensory overload, and heightened anxiety are all tell-tale signs of autism. An ESD can help regulate emotions by acting as a source of comfort during challenging situations. For example, if someone with autism becomes overwhelmed in a crowded environment, an ESD can offer a familiar presence to help them feel secure and manage their emotions.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
People with GAD experience excessive and persistent worry and anxiety. Interacting with an ESD can help alleviate anxiety by providing emotional comfort and a sense of security. For example, petting or cuddling an ESD can release oxytocin, a hormone that promotes relaxation and reduces stress.
Gender dysphoria is associated with feelings of isolation, rejection, and confusion. For someone experiencing gender dysphoria, an ESD can offer unconditional love and acceptance. Dogs are known for their non-judgmental nature, which can be valuable for individuals navigating their gender identity.
People with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings, from manic episodes to depressive states. An ESD can provide emotional stability by offering a consistent and calming presence throughout these mood fluctuations. Bipolar Disorder can sometimes lead to social isolation due to the nature of mood swings and their challenges. An ESD can act as a social facilitator, encouraging social interactions and reducing feelings of loneliness. For example, taking the dog for walks can provide opportunities for social engagement with other dog owners or community members.
Cognitive disorders can result in feelings of loneliness and social isolation. An ESD can provide companionship and emotional support to help alleviate these feelings. The dog’s presence offers comfort, reduces anxiety, and creates a sense of connection and well-being. Interacting with an ESD can also provide cognitive stimulation for individuals with cognitive disorders. Training, playing, and grooming the dog can help maintain or improve cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.
Dogs can uniquely uplift the mood through their presence and interactions. Having an ESD around can increase the production of endorphins and serotonin, contributing to happiness and well-being. Moreover, the unconditional love and companionship provided by an ESD can help relieve symptoms of depression and promote positive emotions.
People with severe anxiety may experience panic attacks, which can be overwhelming and debilitating. An ESD can be trained to recognize the early signs of a panic attack and provide assistance by interrupting negative thought patterns or engaging in grounding techniques. For example, the dog can be trained to perform tasks such as deep pressure therapy, where they apply gentle pressure to the person’s body, helping them feel grounded and comforted during a panic attack.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
An ESD can offer emotional support by providing comfort, companionship, and a non-judgmental presence to individuals with PTSD. The dog can sense and respond to changes in the person’s emotional state, providing grounding and reassurance during moments of distress. Individuals with PTSD may experience hypervigilance and a heightened startle response. An ESD can give a sense of security by creating a physical barrier between the individual and their environment.
Housing Accommodation for an Emotional Support Dog
You are provided specific accommodations under federal law with an emotional support dog animal. 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, including ESAs.
As a result, certain rules, such as 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 charges they have to waive for you include monthly pet fees, pet insurance deposits, and pet surcharges.
If a landlord denies your request for a reasonable accommodation, you reserve the right to request that a government agency investigate your claim that the landlord discriminates against you.
To qualify for an emotional support dog animal, you must have a diagnosed mental or emotional disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A licensed mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist, must provide a written letter, known as an ESA letter, stating that the presence of an emotional support dog is crucial to alleviate symptoms of your disability.
Training Requirements for an Emotional Support Dog
Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs do not require specialized training to perform specific tasks or assist with disabilities. Many countries, including the United States, have no official training requirements for registering an emotional support dog. However, certain situations may warrant training for an ESD to ensure the dog behaves appropriately in various settings.
One such training is public etiquette. ESDs are often allowed in places where regular pets are not, including airplanes and places with no-pet policies. Training an ESD to exhibit good behavior is essential to maintain the privilege of going with them in public places. You want to teach your dog proper leash manners, not to be disruptive, and to respond to basic commands like “sit” and “stay.”
In some cases, emotional support dogs may have anxiety or aggression issues. Training can address these behavioral challenges and help the dog remain calm and well-behaved in stressful situations, reducing the risk of harm to others.
Emotional Support Dogs Registration Requirements
Most jurisdictions have no legally recognized registration process for emotional support dogs. A letter from a licensed mental health professional is required to confirm the dog is a legitimate ESA. Although registration is not mandatory, there are certain benefits of having documentation or identification for your emotional support dog.
A major benefit of having documentation for your emotional support dog is that it can help with housing accommodations. Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), individuals with disabilities, including those with emotional support animals, are entitled to reasonable accommodation in housing even if the property has a “no pets” policy. While registration is not required by law, having a letter or documentation from a licensed mental health professional can strengthen your request for accommodation.
For example, if you are renting an apartment that does not allow pets, providing documentation for your emotional support dog can help you secure housing and live with your supportive companion.
Another situation where having documentation for your emotional support dog can be beneficial is air travel. Airlines have specific policies regarding traveling with pets. While requirements may vary between airlines, having a letter from a mental health professional can help you navigate the process more smoothly.
For instance, if you need to travel by air and want your emotional support dog to accompany you in the cabin, presenting appropriate documentation can help ensure your companion is allowed on board with you.
How to Get an Emotional Support Dog
If you feel that you would benefit from an emotional support dog, you should 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 be 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 in public areas, ease anxiety, relieve 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
An Emotional Support Dog or Animal is recognized and distinguished from regular dogs through an Emotional Support Animal letter or an ESA letter. An Emotional Support Animal Letter lets you possess an emotional support animal wherever you live, regardless of whether pets are allowed. You can obtain a legally recognized ESA letter through a licensed mental health professional. A consultation is required to determine the need for an ESA. If the need is determined, you will receive a legitimate ESA letter.
ESA Pet is your go-to source for a legitimate ESA letter issued in as little as 24 hours. Our goal is to eliminate the hassle of finding and getting approved for an ESA letter nationwide. The best thing about our ESA letters is that they comply with all state and federal laws, which means they’re accepted in all 50 states.
We provide 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.
Best Breeds for Emotional Support Dogs
All dog breeds qualify to become emotional support animals. The most important factors to consider are 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 offer better comfort and security than 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 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 have calm and confident personalities. They also have large yet gentle physiques. They are generally very affectionate toward their owners and can help with various mental illnesses.
The Irish Wolfhound is another excellent 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.
Corgis are highly affectionate dogs. They are relatively active and very accommodating. A corgi is a great option if you are looking for a breed that can easily go into public places.
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 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.
Labradors are among 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
How Long Does It Take to Get an ESA Letter?
You could receive your ESA letter within 24 hours of consultation 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.
Can Airlines Refuse Emotional Support Dogs?
Under the new DOT rules, which took effect on January 11, 2021, airlines are no longer required to treat Emotional Support Animals as service animals. Instead, they can now treat them as pets. This means that airlines can refuse emotional support dogs on flights depending on their policies and regulations.
Can a Landlord Deny an ESD?
No, a landlord cannot deny an ESD with a valid letter from a licensed mental health professional. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits landlords from discriminating against you if you have a mental disability and use the dog as a form of assistance. Under the FHA, you must be allowed access to the home with your emotional support dog, failure to which you have the right to take action against the landlord.
Can My ESD Go Into Restaurants or Markets With Me?
No, emotional support dogs cannot go to public places prohibiting pets. This means restaurants, markets, and stores are out of bounce for emotional support dogs. That said, some restaurants or businesses advertise as pet friendly and may allow well-behaved ESDs on their premises.
Are There Breed or Weight Restrictions for Emotional Support Dogs?
No, emotional support dogs can be of any size, breed, or weight. Even breeds that are commonly discriminated against, like Pit Bulls or Dobermans, are protected by this rule. You can even have more than one emotional support dog if a licensed mental health professional recommends it.
Can I Bring My Emotional Support Dog to Work?
You can bring your emotional support dog to work if you have an official ESA letter proving that the dog helps you cope with a mental illness. However, you will probably need to ensure that your dog will not be a nuisance to anyone in the workplace. Ensure the dog is always well-behaved in a public place.
Can I Bring an ESD With Me to College?
Emotional support dogs are allowed on college campuses. However, the rules vary from school to school. In the U.S., colleges and universities are subject to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which requires them to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, including allowing ESDs in campus housing. You’ll need to provide appropriate documentation to keep your ESD in on-campus housing.
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Final Thoughts: Getting an Emotional Support Dog
An emotional support dog can provide a wide range of benefits for someone experiencing a mental health disability. An emotional support dog can offer comfort, relieve stress and anxiety, and provide emotional stability. Simply put, an emotional support dog offers valuable mental and emotional support through companionship.
If you’re considering buying an ESD or adopting one, you’ve made the right decision for your mental and emotional health. The help and support ESDs provide are critical for anyone looking to alleviate symptoms of mental or emotional health conditions.
To get an ESD, you need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional that verifies your need for an emotional support animal. This documentation helps in securing housing accommodations or travel arrangements.
If you want to enjoy the potential benefits of an ESD, get your ESA letter today to start your mental health journey.