Most people enjoy having a dog around. However, for some, it can be a method to increase their mental health, specifically mental and physical. Some therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists will recommend or prescribe someone to get an emotional support animal to help them heal from traumas or improve their anxiety.
If you want to get an emotional support animal and think a dog might be the right option for you, this article provides you with the 16 best emotional support dogs to suit your needs, as well as what to look for in a dog.
What Is the Definition of an Emotional Support Dog?
An emotional support dog/animal (ESA) is a pet that is there to help someone’s state of mind. They usually focus on problems like anxiety. While all animals generally can do that, for a pet or dog to be considered an emotional support dog, they need to be prescribed, similar to medication.
Usually, a therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist must be the one to prescribe an ESA. To get a prescription, the doctor must determine that having a pet like a dog is necessary to improve your mental health. Some common reasons include giving a person a reason to get up and out of bed, reducing loneliness, or reducing anxiety.
What Does an Emotional Support Dog Do?
Emotional support dogs don’t often have to do anything but be a dog. There are other support animals, and a dog isn’t required, but dogs are the most common by far. Sometimes, even miniature horses can be support animals, and in one case, a peacock.
As for what emotional support dogs do, they just provide support for people. They can be trained to do tasks, but it isn’t much more than what a traditional dog is trained for. Their primary tasks include:
• Reduce anxiety by increasing mood and offering comfort
• Provide support after trauma or even during trauma
• Reduce loneliness by being a loyal and trustworthy companion
• Provide love and care, as well as a sense of accomplishment for taking care of the dog
• Improve physical activity via walks and playing
So as you can see, there isn’t much difference between an ESA and a regular dog. The main difference is that since this dog is prescribed as a medical treatment, it cannot be banned from being in a home, even if pets aren’t usually allowed.
They are a little different from comfort and therapy animals as well. A comfort animal is used in times of crisis to help people stay calm and be distracted during a serious event or emergency.
Therapy animals focus more on helping people in specific places such as clinics or institutions. They provide benefits such as social learning, increased emotional capabilities, and improved cognitive function. Both of these dogs tend to help a wide range of people, instead of one specific person.
Differences Between Emotional Support Dogs and Service Dogs
Many people tend to get emotional support dogs and service dogs confused but they are very different. Emotional support dogs are there to provide companionship for people. They are very helpful for those that have phobias, anxiety, or depression.
They are not specifically trained for a task, but just act as companion animals. While you can train your dog to do something, like cuddle with you, or bring you things, these aren’t the same specific tasks that service dogs have to be trained for.
These dogs cannot be banned from living in homes with the owner and they don’t have to pay pet fees, but they don’t get the same rights in public as service dogs. Some of them can be allowed in work situations, but it still isn’t consistent or specifically required.
Service dogs are used to keep people alive. They are allowed into any public space and have a lot of training. While they can help with things like anxiety and depression, their primary services are usually things like assisting someone who is blind or has problems like PTSD or seizures.
Essentially, ESA dogs are considered just pets that help a person maintain a positive state of mind, while service dogs actually perform tasks and have specific jobs outside just being a pet.
16 Best Emotional Support Dog Breeds
1. Labrador Retrievers
Labrador Retrievers make excellent emotional support dogs because they are easy to train. While they don’t have to be trained for specific tasks like a service dog would, it can make it easier to care for them, and it will give the owner a feeling of accomplishment for training their dog.
They are also very gentle, which means they are good with people who aren’t good with a lot of touch or have small children in their homes. Their intelligence and eagerness to please are also helpful.
2. Great Pyrenees
Though these are large dogs, the Great Pyrenees can make a great emotional support dog. They take care to be gentle with their family, and they are affectionate. This means that they want to often cuddle with their owners, especially when they are stressed out, but aren’t going to be aggressive or pushy about it.
They are also smart and intuitive, which gives them the leg up on detecting when something is wrong with their family, and when someone isn’t feeling very well.
Most people know Poodles as show dogs and assume them to be independent and uppity. While they are smart and quick to pick up instructions, they are also very playful dogs. Their goofiness and joy can help to relieve anxiety from their owners and eliminate stress.
They are also very easy to train thanks to their strong bonds, intelligence, and desire to always please their owners.
4. Golden Retriever
Golden retrievers have been close to people for a long time, and are one of the most popular breeds because of that deep connection. They have a lot of traits that make them a good choice for ESA animals. They are attentive to their owners, easily trained, disciplined, patient, and very cute.
They are more attuned to their owner’s needs than other dogs might be, so they can tell when something is going wrong easier.
5. Yorkshire Terrier
Yorkshire Terriers are a great option for those who want a dog that is small, but still full of energy. Yorkies are excellent snugglers, but also always ready to go for a walk or play out in the yard. They can also be very protective, despite their small size, and will be quick to alert you to any dangers.
6. Great Dane
Great Danes are huge dogs, but don’t let their size fool you. Their hearts are very large, and they are gentle despite their size. They are wonderful for people who have depression or anxiety.
They get along well with anyone, including strangers, and are pretty well-mannered, though they like getting snacks off of counters if you don’t watch them.
They are natural comfort companions and are quick to give a snuggle or do something silly to make their owners happy. They are mild-tempered as well, and their size means that they don’t get intimidated by people easily.
Another good small dog is the Maltese. They fit into pretty compact locations, so they are a great option for people living in small apartments. They crave a lot of human attention, so they always make their owner feel loved and needed.
This makes the Maltese a good option for those suffering from depression or loneliness. They are also sensitive and smart, so they can pick up on information or behaviors fairly quickly.
8. Irish Wolfhound
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Irish Wolfhounds are a very intelligent breed and are pretty sensitive to human behavior and emotions. This means that they are good at understanding when their owner requires a little extra comfort.
They have calm personalities, so they don’t get rowdy or overly energetic, but do still enjoy spending time going on walks or playing around when their owner is up to it.
Chihuahuas are popular dogs due to their small size. They can be some of the smallest dogs available, but their personalities are large. They are a great option for people that don’t have a lot of space or move around a lot and need something easy to take along with them.
They have been used a lot as service and emotional support dogs, and excel at issues like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and autism. They have social skills to help them understand their task in a household and what is needed from them.
10. German Shepherd
German Shepherds have personality traits like affectionate, loving, loyal, and protective. They do well for those that have problems that are more mental than physical, though they can do well with both.
They are also curious and alert, which means they pick up things quickly even without training and often understand when something is wrong or when they are needed.
11. Border Collie
Border Collies have a lot of energy. They always want to be moving. They are also wise and need a lot of mental stimulation.
These two characteristics mean they are quick to motivate their owners to move and go out on walks, and once they pick something up, they will memorize it and perform it repeatedly. They are great options for owners that haven’t trained a dog before due to their intelligence.
Havanese are often compared to velcro since they are very attached to their owners and always like being by their side. Most of these dogs manage to offer comfort without even realizing or being aware that their owners needed it. They also have social skills and adapt quickly to any given situation.
13. American Staffordshire Terrier
With good training and socialization, an American Staffordshire Terrier gets along with most people and handles a variety of different situations. They are good at handling people with PTSD and depression with their obvious expressions and loving nature.
14. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was originally bred to be a companion dog. This affection and companionship have made them great for being emotional support dogs. They enjoy having a lot of physical contact, don’t take up much space, and are very friendly as well.
Corgis tend to have a calm personality with a stable temperament. They are also very loyal. They have often been picked to help those with anxiety as they don’t hold grudges and are dedicated to their owner. They are easygoing as well, so they can adapt to situations or new behaviors.
16. Mixed Breeds (especially mixes of two of any of the above dogs)
Pretty much any dog can become an emotional service dog, depending on its personality. While you can get a pure breed of any dog above, having a mix of two breeds, or a dog that has one of these breeds as a parent can still work well.
They will likely still have the temperament of their parents, having the necessities to make them ideal emotional support dogs. Additionally, it is more the bond between dog and owner that is important, though the traits of the dog can help. So don’t immediately disregard a dog because they aren’t one of the ones above.
Common Characteristics of Good Emotional Support Dogs
If you look at the dog breeds, you might not see initially that they have a lot in common. Some are small, some are large, and there are a variety of different breeds. Since they don’t have to do a lot of tasks, they don’t need to be highly intelligent and eager to please like many service dogs.
What matters most with emotional support dogs is that the owner and the dog form a bond. If the dog is quick to pick up on emotions and offer comfort, that is an additional benefit.
However, the only thing you really need to look out for is independent dogs. Having a dog that is too independent, you don’t have to spend much time with it often doesn’t provide the benefits you want from an ESA.
Additionally, having a dog that needs a lot of exercises, more so than the average dog, may also be too much for some people. Since they are supposed to help promote activity via walks and playing, having a dog you have to run a lot might be too much for many people.
Some people suggest avoiding rescue dogs as well because their temperaments and behaviors are unstable due to trauma. Working dog breeds may be good to avoid as well since they require a lot of tasks or they act out.
You can take the time to get to know the dog beforehand with regular meetings to see if they might be a potential dog for you. It is really up to the individual which dog will work more for them than these standard lists.
However, some dog breeds might be better to avoid. Some are known for acting out or being a bit too much to control such as a Shiba Inu, Pekingese, Shar-Pei, Australian Cattle Dog, German Pinscher, Chow Chow, and Tibetan Mastiff may be too much for people that need a bit of support.
Where to Get an Emotional Support Dog
Since an emotional support dog can be almost any dog, you can get them from anywhere. Even dogs you already have can become emotional support dogs.
However, if you are looking for one, you may be unsure where to start. While some people don’t recommend shelters, they are a great place to find dogs (or other animals) that need love and care and will provide support.
They can have quirks, but if you take the time to meet with the animal regularly before adopting, you can see if they fit your needs best or not, and even create a connection.
You can also look at reputable breeders in your area. This can allow you to get a dog as a puppy so that you can train them from a young age and make that bond form easier. Training a puppy can be a lot of work though, and may be too much for some people to handle.