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How to Make Your Dog an Emotional Support Dog

First published:  April 21, 2022
Last updated: April 15, 2024
How to Make Your Dog an Emotional Support Dog
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  • Emotional support dogs can help people with mental health problems.
  • You can make your dog an emotional support dog by getting a letter from a doctor.
  • Emotional support dogs are allowed in places where pets are not usually allowed.
  • Even though emotional support dogs don't need special training, it's a good idea to train your dog anyway.

Emotional support animals are prescribed by healthcare professionals to help treat people with mental or emotional disabilities like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

These assistance animals are not the same as service animals, which are trained to perform certain tasks for people with specific physical disabilities.

Instead, emotional support animals benefit people with mental health conditions and emotional problems by providing them with love, affection, and companionship.

While various kinds of animals can become ESAs, such as cats and rabbits, dogs are the most common type. That should not come as any great surprise. After all, we all know how loving, friendly, intelligent, and helpful dogs can be.

Because emotional support dogs do not have to be trained, your current dog can serve as an ESA.

Here is a look at how to go about making your dog into an emotional support dog.

Why You Should Get Legal Recognition as an Emotional Support Dog for Your Dog

Your dog could already be giving you the support and affection you need to help you handle things like anxiousness and panic attacks better. But for your dog to be legally recognized as an emotional support dog, you will need to be prescribed the animal and obtain official documentation.

There are various benefits of getting official recognition for an emotional support dog. For instance, you are legally allowed to live in accommodation with an emotional support dog even if your building does not allow pets. 

Furthermore, emotional support dog owners do not have to pay fees for their pets to live with them. When you have an official, legally-recognized emotional support dog, the housing provider is not allowed to charge a pet fee or a deposit for your dog.

Emotional support dogs are also exempt from housing policies that restrict pets by breed, size, and weight.

How to Turn Your Dog Into an Emotional Support Dog

An elderly lady sitting beside a dog while holding a picture frame on the couch

The first step in making your dog an emotional support dog is to see a licensed mental health professional.

After discussing your emotional needs and the symptoms of your mental health condition, the healthcare professional can prescribe you an emotional support dog as part of your treatment plan.

The prescription comes in the form of a letter. You will need a valid ESA letter for any kind of emotional support pet, including emotional support dogs.

The letter confirms that you have a legitimate need for the support of an emotional support animal and it gives you certain rights under federal law, such as being able to live in housing that does not allow standard pets.

Any breed of dog can potentially be an emotional support dog. And as previously mentioned, emotional support animals do not require any specific training.

So, if you currently have a dog, once you get your ESA letter, your dog can instantly be transformed into a legally-recognized emotional support animal.

Can Emotional Support Dogs Board Flights?

A lady walking with her dog in the airport

Until recently, emotional support dogs were able to board airplanes free of charge. But a change in the law now means that is not the case.

However, you can still board some airlines with pets; you will just need to pay a fee. So, check which airlines permit pets to travel if you are planning on flying. Although you will have to pay a fee, it can be more than worth it if you suffer anxiety when flying, for instance.

Also, it is worth mentioning that psychiatric service dogs can still travel on planes free of charge, but they are not the same as emotional support dogs. Psychiatric service dogs are dogs that are trained to perform specific tasks relating to a disability.

It Is a Good Idea to Train Your Dog in the Usual Way

A person teaching his dog tricks in the outdoors

Although emotional support dogs do not require specific training to provide you with the comfort and companionship that can be so beneficial for a wide variety of emotional and mental health symptoms, you should ensure your dog is trained as well as any other dogs that people keep as pets.

As an emotional support dog owner, you are responsible for the dog’s actions, so you need to ensure your canine friend is not a direct threat to others and is obedient and well-behaved in all types of settings.

You may wish to attend group training sessions to help your dog improve its ability to interact with other humans and dogs. You will then have one less thing to worry about. When you walk your dog, you can stay calm and reap the benefits of having an emotional support pet with you while out and about.

Getting a New Dog

A family of four petting 2 dogs in the outdoors

If you do not currently have a dog, you can still choose any type of dog to become your pet and then go through the process of getting an ESA letter to make your dog into an emotional support animal.

There are various avenues available for getting a dog. Many people opt to get dogs through animal shelters and rescue groups. You can usually spend time interacting with a potential dog, to ensure the two of you have a connection before you agree to take the pet home. 

Make sure the dog you choose is able to provide the much-needed emotional support you require. You should consider things like the dog’s temperament, personality, and demeanor, and ensure it complements your own attributes. 

You should also consider your specific mental health condition. For example, if you suffer from anxiety, you need to select a dog that has a calming presence, but if you suffer from depression or social phobia, it could be better to have a dog that helps to get you up in the morning and get you out of the house. 

You should also consider things that every dog owner needs to consider. That includes choosing a dog of the right size for your type of accommodation, getting a dog bed or playpen, knowing the dog’s walking and grooming needs, choosing the right dog food and water, knowing your dog's allergies, and possible health problems. 

Which Breeds of Dogs Make the Best Emotional Support Dogs?

A cocker spaniel on top of a bed

As previously mentioned, any breed of dog can make a wonderful emotional support dog, but some breeds could make better emotional support animals than others. Your specific mental health problem and symptoms need to be taken into consideration, too. 

According to the American Kennel Club, the breeds that make the best emotional support dogs are the following:

  • The Labrador Retriever is ideal as an emotional support dog because it has an innate skill in identifying how its owner is feeling, it is gentle, friendly, and empathic, and it is eager to please. 
  • The Yorkshire Terrier is one of the best kinds of smaller emotional support dogs. It is very affectionate. And the Yorkie is ideal for people with anxiety or social phobia, as traveling with a small dog is easy and can reduce the symptoms of anxiousness. 
  • The Cocker Spaniel not only gives love and affection, but it also has long, silky fur, which can be very therapeutic to pet and stroke. Cocker Spaniels are particularly well-suited for helping children with emotional and mental health challenges. 

How Exactly Do Emotional Support Dogs Benefit People With Emotional or Mental Health Problems?

An elderly woman sitting on a couch with a golden retriever

We have touched upon how emotional support dogs can help people with emotional or mental health problems due to the animals being able to provide unconditional love, a lot of affection, and companionship. But let us delve deeper. 

Emotional support dogs can help people with depression to raise their serotonin levels, which increase feelings of happiness, due to the fact that the owners will be taking their dogs out for walks every day and therefore keeping active. 

Walking dogs also means owners are more likely to meet other dog owners, which can be great for helping people with conditions like anxiety to meet new people. 

Sharing your life with an emotional support dog can also give you a sense of purpose. If you suffer from depression, for example, simple things like getting out of bed in the morning can often be very challenging. When you have a dog to feed, walk, and groom, you will want to be more active to help your canine pal. 

In turn, your new responsibility and companionship will give you a new sense of purpose, and that can relieve symptoms of depression. 

Summing Up

It should now be clear how helpful having an emotional support dog in your life can be if you suffer from an emotional problem or a mental health condition. 

If you currently have a dog, the process of making your four-legged friend into a legally-recognized emotional support dog is straightforward. 

You first need to see a licensed healthcare professional who can prescribe you an emotional support animal as part of your treatment plan. That prescription takes the form of an ESA letter. 

Once you receive your letter, the dog you own instantly becomes an emotional support dog. You can then use that letter at a time when you need to prove that your pet is an emotional support animal. 

For instance, you can show the letter to a landlord who does not ordinarily permit pets in the building. With an ESA letter, the landlord is legally obliged to let you keep an emotional support dog in your apartment or house.

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