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What is an Emotional Support Dog?

There is no doubt that every dog is emotionally connected with his owner offering certain emotional comfort. However, an Emotional Support Dog needs to be prescribed to a person with a mental illness, by a professional licensed in mental health.

The decision of whether a person needs the presence of a dog for the benefit of his own mental health should be made by a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. For example, people diagnosed with anxiety might need an emotional support dog in their lives to relieve the symptoms and find some focus in life.

For a dog to be qualified as an Emotional Support Dog it must be well-behaved and meet some typical pet standards. This goes for basic toilet training and for the animal not being danger or nuisance to other people. Any dog breed has the potential to be a competent Emotional Support Dog.

While our blog’s mascot is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, these tips apply for any breed.

ESA (Emotional Support Animal) Dogs and Service Dogs

Emotional support dogs exist to help people fight with depression, anxiety or phobias of various kind, but do not have the same rights as service dogs. The law generally allows service dogs access anywhere in public guiding and helping their owners, while emotional support dogs aren’t allowed. For example, an ESA dog cannot accompany his owner in a restaurant or a shopping mall.

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So the basic difference between service and emotional support dogs is whether the dog has been trained to perform a specific task or just goes by instinct. Service dogs may alarm people with impaired hearing and thus help them avoid dangerous situations because they were trained to, and ESA’s will cuddle and comfort when a person feels anxious just by instinct.

How Do You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?

If you have an emotional disability, you can legally qualify for an ESA, short for emotional support animal. You must be certified as emotionally disabled by a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other duly-licensed and/or certified mental health professional.

Under the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) that dogs providing only emotional support and comfort for the owners do not qualify as service dogs because they aren’t individually trained to help and perform tasks for the people with disabilities. Local laws in some states issue permits for emotional support dogs, so it’s always best to check with local agencies.

How Big Can an Emotional Support Dog Be?

Emotional support dogs can range in various sizes, from the small Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to a Labrador Retriever.  Flight regulations however, may require that your dog can fit under your carry on seat, to ride aboard with you in the main cabin.

What Breeds Make Good Emotional Support Dogs?

Here are seven of the best dog breeds for fighting depression.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Aside from their obvious cuteness, King Charles Spaniels can help their owners fight depression in many ways — one being that they love to cuddle. (They were the preferred lapdog breed of noble Scots back in the 1500s, and King Charles II liked these fluffy little love machines so much that he named them after himself.) In fact, as Animal Planet put it, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is so cuddly, that it’s been nicknamed “The Love Sponge.” On top of being super affectionate, these pups are supposedly easy to train and great with the kids, too.

Labrador Retriever

In addition to being happy dogs, Labrador Retrievers are very loyal, eager to please, and super trainable. Labs love to get outside and be active, too, which encourages their owners to do the same. Adopting a dog who needs to go on frequent walks can be a great motivator for anyone who genuinely wants to take advantage of the mental health benefits of exercising in nature, but needs the support and drive of a loving pup to get out the door.

Poodle

Poodles love being around their person. They also have the same people-pleasing personality traits that Labs do, and they’re high level of intelligence lands them all kinds of work as service dogs. As you can imagine, all of these characteristics combined makes poodles invaluable allies in the fight against depression.

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers possess a capacity for love and devotion that few dog breeds can boast. They’re famously well-behaved, too. So much so, in fact, that Golden Retrievers were the first ever American Kennel Club Obedience Trial Champions.

Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terriers intelligence and tendency to form strong bonds with their owners makes them one of the most loyal, loving, and trainable breeds out there.

Viszla

According to Animal Planet, Viszlas are nicknamed “The Velcro Dog” because they like being near their owners that much. They’re also well-known for being as passionate about self-care as cats are, so they might actually be the only dogs that never smell like dogs.

Pug

Pugs are an excellent breed for anyone suffering from depression, because they generally possess a steadily positive temperament and funny personality.

ESA Dogs and Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to help people cope with mental illness by performing tasks. For example, they perform searches for persons with PTSD, remind people to take medications or keep disoriented owners away from traffic and hazardous situations. This widely differs comparing to emotional support dogs.

Legal Rights for ESA Dogs

Even though Emotional Support Dogs don’t enjoy the same legal rights as service dogs, under the FHA (Fair Housing Act) they fall under the term assistance dogs and cannot be discriminated in situations then a person with mental disability obtains housing. This means that people with a prescription for ESA must not be charged a deposit for the pet and can avoid ‘no pets’ rules, pet-size limitations or species bans.

Another act, the ACAA (Air Carrier Acess Act) allows Emotional Support Dogs to enter the cabin of the aircraft and accompany their owner. Every owner must have the appropriate paperwork and provide it on time to the airline.

How to Register My Dog as an Emotional Support Animal

Please note there is no national registry for ESAs or service dogs. They are sites that take your money with no accreditation or legal backing (contributing to the abuse of people classifying pets).  ESAs will be “prescribed” by your doctor.  No other documentation is needed, aside from airlines needing vet records or housing needing you to verify the dog isn’t a nuisance and that you’re responsible for the damages.

For service dogs, the dog competency will be questioned and that’s why you need to graphically document the training process and the dog’s behavior in public. Once the training is complete you can register your dog as a service dog.

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