There’s no question about the many roles a dog can play in your life: they can be your first “child,” a cuddly companion, a source of never-ending entertainment and even your best friend. But dogs can also play another important role: they can be emotional support animals.
Aside from the comforting companionship they offer, emotional support animals have been shown to lower anxiety, normalize heart rate and blood pressure, and reduce pain, stress and depression. Keep reading to see the best dog breeds for emotional support and get all of these great benefits from your furry friend.
Why Do People Get Emotional Support Animals?
There are plenty for reasons someone might get an emotional support dog. Loneliness, anxiety and depression are all common factors that lead people to getting an emotional support animal since these animals can offer comfort in times of distress. Emotional support animals can also help relieve other mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house), and aerophobia (fear of flying).
Not only do support animals make people feel safer, but they can also motivate their owners and increase their sense of purpose. Older people can benefit from having an emotional support animal due to the increase in daily activity, which has also been found to decrease their need for medication[B1] [B2] .
What Does ESA (Emotional Support Animal) Mean?
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that can provide emotional benefits to someone just by being around them. Emotional support animals aren’t just limited to dogs; all domesticated animals can qualify to be an ESA. This means cats, rabbits, birds, rats, ferrets, and even minipigs can all provide the benefits of an emotional support animal. However, dogs are often a favored support animal because of the ability to train them and bring them in public, and we’re going to look at the best dog breeds for emotional support.
What is the Difference Between a Therapy Dog, a Service Dog, and an Emotional Support Animal?
There are lots of options for people who are looking for a support animal, such as therapy dogs, service dogs and emotional support animals. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines emotional support animals as “animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.” However, because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task relating to the person’s emotional needs, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. This means that an ESA may not be granted the same permissions or accommodations as trained service dogs, like admittance on planes or in restaurants. However, there are some local and state laws which do allow emotional support animals into public places – as long as they are authorized by a licensed health professional.
The main difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal is the training; for example, both animals may be used to help someone with anxiety, but in different ways. An emotional support animal will help reduce anxiety by being a comforting presence to their owner; a service dog may be trained to notice when their owner is feeling anxious, e.g. if their leg is shaking, and will put their body weight against the person’s leg or retrieve medication.
On the other hand, therapy dogs go with their owners to places like schools, hospitals and nursing homes to provide comfort and happiness to lots of different people. Like emotional support animals, therapy dogs aren’t recognized under the ADA.
Since all of these roles are different, there are certain dogs breeds for emotional support that stand out.
What Do the Best ESA Breeds Have in Common?
Since emotional support animals don’t need to be trained to do anything in particular, the most important trait in an ESA is attention to their owner’s emotional state. All of the best dog breeds for emotional support are considered to be friendly and calm. The relaxed demeanor of an ESA is crucial so it doesn’t add to its owner’s stress. Lap dogs can be especially good emotional support animals for people who need a low-energy pet, and their size means they can be easily taken anywhere. However, big dogs provide their own perks, like an added sense of security.
The Best Breeds for Emotional Support Dogs
1. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles spaniel has been specifically bred since the Renaissance to be ideal companions. They are gentle, well-mannered, and love cuddling, making them one of the best dog breeds for emotional support. At an average of 12 inches tall and 13-18 pounds, this dog is lap size and doesn’t mind sitting there all day long. Plus, they look like a teddy bear brought to life, with sweet, round eyes and silky hair.
Pomeranians are another great option for those looking for a small emotional support animal. They can be anywhere from 7 to 12 inches tall and weigh up to only 10 pounds. Not only are these fluffy dogs perfect for snuggling, but they are attentive to the needs of their owners, which makes them even more helpful when you are in need of a bit of extra comfort. Plus, they are very smart dogs and can easily be trained to retrieve small items such as medication.
3. Irish Wolfhound
Irish Wolfhounds are gentle giants; coming from a long history of hunting, this modern-day breed has kept its incredibly protective nature but is also calm enough to be the perfect support dog. Irish Wolfhounds have a sensitivity to emotions, so they’ll know when you need some extra cuddles, and their rougher coat can be helpful for those with sensory needs. Plus, with their notably lengthy body – over 30 inches tall – and weight range between 105 and 120 pounds, these dogs will soothe your anxiety by offering a sense of security against strangers.
4. Golden Retriever
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Golden Retrievers are on this list. With their fluffy blonde coats and floppy ears, they look like the definition of happiness. But their benefits aren’t limited to their looks – retrievers are highly patient and friendly, which is why they are the most common breed trained for service work. Goldens can range from 22 to 24 inches tall and between 55 and 75 pounds, and you can be prepared to develop a bond with one as your emotional support animal.
5. Yorkshire Terrier
Yorkshire Terriers, or Yorkies, are the best dog breed for emotional support if you love giving and getting attention. It’s a wonder they are able to pack so much love into such a small body – they are typically only 8 inches tall and about 7 pounds. This size makes them great for apartments or small houses, and they won’t be shy to shower you in lots of affection.
6. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Corgis are herding dogs, which means they have a strong sense of loyalty and obedience. They are friendly and affectionate, all necessary qualities to have in your support pup. Corgis have short, stocky legs, a fluffy body, perky ears, and at 12 inches tall and up to 30 pounds, these mid-sized dogs are the perfect blend of cuteness and support.
7. Standard Poodle
The Standard Poodle is a reliable dog for someone in need of emotional support. Their unique coats are hypoallergenic, which means you don’t have to worry about taking them in public or if you have allergies yourself. Poodles always seem to be in a good mood, so their happiness is bound to be contagious. They’re also extremely smart and can create close bonds with their owner, qualities that clearly make it one of the best dog breeds for emotional support. Standard Poodles range from 18 to 24 inches tall and can be anywhere from 45 to 70 pounds.
8. Great Dane
Don’t let their size fool you – Great Danes are one of the sweetest and most relaxed dogs on this list. Nearing 34 inches tall and up to 200 pounds, these massive animals have an even bigger heart. They also tend to think they’re much smaller than they actually are, making them a great source of entertainment as they try to snuggle in your lap. Even though they’re too gentle to hurt even a fly, strangers won’t be able to tell by their giant disposition, making this a great option for those whose emotional support needs could use a boost by a living security system.
9. Border Collie
The final pup on our list for best dog breeds for emotional support is the Border Collie. Another herding dog, border collies will feel very protective and loving toward you, taking special notice of your wellbeing. They are one of the smartest dog breeds and have worked with people for hundreds of years. They are medium-sized dogs, up to 22 inches tall and 45 pounds, and would make an excellent choice for an ESA.
Dog Breeds That May Not Be the Best For Emotional Support
While there are plenty of dogs that make great emotional support animals, not every breed is well-suited for the role. These are some of the dog breeds that wouldn’t make a good fit for emotional support:
- Australian Cattle Dog: While these are great, energetic dogs for active people, the Australian Cattle Dog (or Blue Heeler) may be a bit too high-energy for someone seeking and ESA. Plus, their innate stubbornness can make them hard to train.
- Toy Poodle: Though the Standard Poodle is on this list of best dog breeds for emotional support, its miniature counterpart wouldn’t do as good of a job in such a role. Separation from their owner can cause significant distress in this pup, and while that might sound like it would create a deep bond with you, you shouldn’t have to worry about your pet’s wellbeing every time you leave the house.
- Bernese Mountain Dog: The Berner has all of the qualities for an emotional support dog – like intelligence, loyalty, and affection – but they only tend to live up to about seven years old due to generations of inbreeding. Such a short time with your ESA, despite how great they may be, might cause even greater feelings of sadness and loneliness down the road.
How Do I Get an Emotional Support Dog?
It’s not very difficult to get an emotional support dog. There are no certifications that officially register an animal as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act, though some websites offer customized ID cards or certificates for a fee.
However, since emotional support animals are not considered service animals under the ADA, some places (like airports or apartments) may require documentation from a licensed mental health professional before allowing your ESA in. In order to do this, you should make an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist or physician who you are willing to discuss your emotional needs with. They should then write a letter verifying your disability and need for an emotional support animal. The professional who writes the letter must be currently treating the person with the ESA, according to the US Department of Transportation. Also, you should request a new letter every year, as airlines may deny letters or certificates that are over a year old.
But if you aren’t looking to take your support dog on a trip any time soon, all you really need to do is look through this list and find which breed best suits your needs, and then enjoy all of the happiness your new companion will bring you.