Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Support Dogs

Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Support Dogs

Author WDF Staff


Those of us who are dog owners are well-aware of all benefits our dogs provide us with. Our dogs might not be emotional support dogs, but they still make us laugh, shower us with love and affection, and even make us get a bit of exercise every day. Even walking your dog proved to be great for your physical health.

Emotional support dogs are pets that provide us with emotional support and the ability to function on a day-to-day basis. They have made tens of thousands of lives better across the world and continue supporting us in situations that can seem overwhelming sometimes.

If you are interested in getting an emotional support dog, here are some things you should know about them.

What is exactly an emotional support dog?

Arguably, all dogs are emotional support dogs because they form an emotional bond with their owners. For a dog to be registered as an emotional support dog, they need to be prescribed to an individual by a licensed mental health professional.

Only individuals with mental disabilities or issues can have an emotional support dog. That can only be determined or diagnosed by a professional psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. They can decide if a dog will help those individuals in their everyday life.

dog and owner in nature

Are ESDs considered service dogs?

There are distinct differences between a service dog and an emotional support dog, and under the “American with disabilities act” or ADA, emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs. Service dogs are dogs that are “specially trained to aid individuals to perform specific tasks.” That act clearly states that ESDs are not considered service dogs.

It is essential to know the difference because service dogs and emotional support dogs don’t receive the same treatment. Service dogs can enter facilities like restaurants or grocery stores, while ESDs can be denied entry. The difference is training; service dogs have been trained to perform a specific task, such as guiding a blind person or notifying a deaf person about sounds they cannot hear.

Emotional support dogs are also not considered psychiatric service dogs, which are service dogs that have been specially trained to aid a person with a mental disability. For example, psychiatric service dogs will warn about an upcoming episode or can stop a mentally disabled person from wandering off into dangerous places during their episodes. Unfortunately, ESDs don’t qualify for that, and their most significant impact is cuddling and presence, which is a thing that is not trained, and dogs would do that instinctively.

dog with owner

What dog breeds can become ESDs?

There are no restrictions that ban certain dog breeds from becoming emotional support dogs, but most breeds used are those you might expect. These breeds are sensitive, empathic, and cuddly by nature, so you can expect breeds like the Labrador, Golden Retriever,  Corgi, Yorkshire Terrier, Chihuahua, or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to play the role of an ESD.

Both big, small, and medium breeds can be emotional support dogs, and dogs are not the only species for that role. Under the American Federal Law, guinea pigs, ferrets, cats, dogs, and even miniature horses can be emotional support animals.

Rules and restrictions regarding emotional support animals

ESAs have certain privileges when it comes to housing or traveling. If a person has a cat or a dog as an emotional support animal, they can rent an apartment even if the building has a “no-pet” policy. However, specific documentation and registration need to be shown on demand. If a landlord or an airliner asks for proof that your dog is actually an ESD, you will need to show them the documentation.

If a person has a service dog, it is illegal to ask for proof of training or documentation that proves they are indeed a service dog. That is clearly stated under the ADA. Emotional support animals don’t have to wear any identification. Still, it would be a good idea that you always have paperwork and documentation that can prove your pet is an ESA. The pet should be housebroken and have proof of updated vaccination. Under no circumstances should an emotional support animal endanger other people.

labrador puppy and child

Even though there aren’t any breed restrictions about becoming an emotional support dog, some airline companies have certain restrictions. For example, in 2018, Delta airlines banned Pit Bulls from getting onboard their planes in an ESDs role because one Pit Bull bit two of their crew members. Also, airline companies reserve the right to deny ESAs like ferrets, snakes, spiders, reptiles, and anything they might consider dangerous onboard their planes.

How can I get an emotional support dog?

People often think that they need to register or certify their dog as an emotional support animal; however, that is not the case. The only way you can get an emotional support dog is by getting an official recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional. To sum it all up - the only thing that proves your dog is an emotional support dog is the letter from a mental health professional.

No other certificate, registration, training, or online forms will do that.

There are a few steps you can take if you think you are an individual who needs an emotional support dog, and those steps are;

  • Understand your need for an emotional support dog
  • Contact a licensed mental health professional
  • Demonstrate the need for ESD
  • Receive your letter of recommendation

child and dog in nature

These four steps are all it takes. No need to further register, certify, or pay any fees to anyone.

If you do not have contacts with licensed mental health physicians, many online services can provide you with the connection. After a short online search, we are sure you will find what you are looking for.

World Dog Finder team

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