ESA Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

ESA Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

If you have a dog, you’re already familiar with many of the physical, mental, and emotional health benefits that often accompany pet parenthood. From regular exercise to loyal companionship, bringing a dog into your life certainly has its advantages! Which is why so many people with debilitating conditions lean on emotional support dogs to significantly improve their quality of life.

The world can be stressful, and the worries of everyday life can be overwhelming to anyone. It can be challenging to lead a fulfilling life when coupled with emotional issues. Many people turn to pets as a source of comfort in an effort to cope with these feelings. It means emotional support dogs, or ESA dogs, are more than just ordinary pets.

These special pets offer emotional support and comfort to help people cope with certain challenges that may otherwise compromise their quality of life. Let's dive into what it means to have an emotional support dog and whether or not you may qualify for one.

What Is an Emotional Support Dog?

emotional support chihuahua being pet by owner

While all dogs tend to have an emotional connection with their guardians, dogs with a particularly strong bond may be legally considered an emotional support animal. This will require prescriptions from a licensed medical health professional for a person suffering from an otherwise disabling mental illness.

A psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist will determine that the animal's presence is crucial for the patient's mental health. For instance, having a dog as a constant companion will ease the person's anxiety and allow them to focus. These dogs can be of any age or breed (more on that below).

Disabilities that Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog

Although you only require a mental health professional's recommendation to get an ESA dog, they don't just hand out prescriptions because you ask for one. Common disorders that may require these support animals include:

Bipolar Disorder

This brain disorder can lead to unusual shifts in mood, energy, and activity level that disrupt the ability to function normally. An emotional support dog can help in this case by becoming an anchor for support and comfort in any state.


Depression is more than just feeling sad from time to time. It’s a constant state of hopelessness, which can negatively impact thoughts, feelings, and actions. An emotional support dog can offer comfort to you during extreme episodes.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as war. It is common for victims of abuse, torture, war veterans, or after losing a loved one. As a result of such circumstances, the individual may develop severe anxiety, uncontrollable reactions, flashbacks, and nightmares. An emotional support dog is always on your side to offer comfort and improve mental health.

golden retriever emotional support dog for ptsd

Postpartum Depression

The birth of a child can be a great upheaval followed by extreme emotions of joy, excitement, and happiness accompanied by fear, anxiety, and sometimes depression. This can develop into postpartum psychosis in extreme cases.

During this time, the mother needs a lot of support. An emotional support dog can fill this role by offering much-needed comfort and care during a chaotic period.

How to Get an Emotional Support Dog

dog being hugged by male owner

An ESA dog can be any breed that alleviates symptoms of its owner's emotional distress or mental illness. The dog will offer its owners the confidence and support required to lead a productive life.

Before adopting a dog, you have to qualify to get an ESA letter. Unlike service dogs, ESA dogs do not require special training to perform tasks for their owners. Their main intention is to offer comfort and support through companionship.

When looking for the best companion, choose a dog you can manage. For example, when you live in an apartment, you can find it more seamless to handle a small dog than a large dog that needs more space and exercise.

Additionally, consider how the dog will affect your daily activities. Someone with severe anxiety would benefit from a dog with a calming influence rather than hyperactive tendencies. Contact animal shelters and ask questions about the various breeds that may be a fit for your condition. It is crucial to get the right dog and offer the right environment for the dog, including getting an emotional support dog vest.

Emotional Support Dog Registration

It is common to confuse the phrase “certifying a dog” and obtaining an ESA letter. But the reality is, there is no certification to qualify to own an ESA dog, the only thing you need is an ESA letter. Pet owners obtain the letter from a licensed mental health professional. If you have trouble finding a therapist, you can connect with a mental health professional through online platforms.

If a landlord or anyone else seeks a registration number, ID, or certificate to prove that your dog is an emotional support animal, they are misinformed. The only proof you need is an ESA letter from a licensed professional that states you need to have an emotional support dog.

dog wearing glasses

For clarity, you don't need to “register” your dog anywhere else after obtaining an ESA letter. The Fair Housing Act, with guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing, doesn't require registrations or certifications for emotional support animals.

The steps to certify an emotional support dog include:

  • Determine whether you require an ESA
  • Consult a licensed therapist or doctor
  • Demonstrate you need an ESA
  • Get the required documents
  • Pick your dog from a shelter

It’s equally important to note that some landlords and airlines may require additional forms for your ESD to be submitted with the ESA letter.

How to Choose the Best Emotional Support Dog

group of dogs sitting in front of a pink wall

Although an ESA can be any shape, size, color, or temperament, here are the top ten emotional support dog breeds:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Pomeranian
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Beagle
  • Corgi
  • Poodle
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Golden Retriever
  • Pug
  • Chihuahua


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