Emotional Support Dog: Your Guide

Emotional support dogs are a popular and helpful category of companion animal that works to support their owners with their comforting presence. If you are new to the concept of emotional support dogs or you want to learn more information about these wonderful pups, you’re in the right place.

Our guide will give you essential information on emotional support dogs. This includes information about how these pups differ from service dogs, the rights that you have with your emotional support dog, and how to add an emotional support dog into your life. Read on for everything you need to know about these helpful animal companions.

What Is an Emotional Support Dog?

Emotional support dogs are a type of companion animal that falls under the category of emotional support animal (ESA). Many different types of animals in addition to dogs may potentially be considered ESAs, including cats, horses, snakes, and even hamsters.

The primary function of an emotional support animal is to provide comfort for their humans and relief from certain symptoms of a mental health condition or another disability.

Emotional support dogs are one of the more popular types of ESAs. This is because dogs are well-known for their loyal, affectionate, and comforting nature, in addition to their ability to redirect their human’s focus in times of need.

Most dogs are incredibly intelligent and may learn how to pick up on subtle cues that their human exhibits when they need assistance. Many dogs will happily volunteer their cuddles to their owner when necessary.

Are Emotional Support Dogs Different From Service Dogs?

Emotional support dogs are different from service dogs, and it’s important to note that these two companion animals serve different purposes.

While emotional support dogs comfort and relieve certain symptoms of mental health conditions and other disabilities, they are not trained to do so. Emotional support dogs, and other emotional support animals, simply provide their support with their existence in their owner’s lives.

On the other hand, service dogs are specifically trained to perform tasks that directly relate to an individual’s disability. These working pups typically undergo intensive training from the time they are puppies so that they can complete skills and tasks that relieve disability symptoms. Proper training ensures service dogs can support an individual throughout their daily life.

Common examples of tasks that service dogs perform include closing doors, retrieving items, guiding the visually impaired, or alerting their owners to drops in blood sugar.

It’s also important to note that there are three main types of service dogs – psychiatric, medical alert, and mobility or guidance. Emotional support dogs are simply categorized as a comfort or support animal.

Who Might Benefit From an Emotional Support Dog?

Plenty of individuals may benefit from an emotional support dog, and there are several different mental health conditions or disabilities that these pups might be able to provide support. The most common conditions that emotional support dogs help with include anxiety, depression, PTSD, stress disorders, and bipolar disorder.

However, emotional support dogs are not limited to these conditions. Meet with your therapist, doctor, or another licensed medical professional if you have questions about whether or not an emotional support dog is right for you and your treatment plan.

Ways That Emotional Support Dogs Provide Assistance

Emotional support dogs provide a massive amount of existence just by offering their comfort and companionship to their humans. Below, we give you some specific examples of how an emotional support dog might help an individual deal with their mental health condition or disability.

  • Your emotional support dog might provide comfort and support when they notice panic attacks taking place or other moments of extreme emotion.
  • Emotional support dogs can help individuals feel more confident in their daily lives due to the support and quiet comfort they provide.
  • Your emotional support dog might interrupt harmful or negative behaviors.
  • Emotional support dogs can provide a consistent routine and give individuals a way to redirect their focus when struggling with certain emotions.

This list isn’t comprehensive, and there are many more items that an emotional support dog might help with. However, emotional support dogs and their benefits are highly personal. You may gain certain benefits from your dog in your specific situation that others don’t experience the same way.

For more information on the science behind these animals, you can access this article from the National Library of Medicine concerning the mental health benefits of support animals.

What Rights Do Emotional Support Dogs Have?

woman holding puppy on chest

Many people know that service dogs have a fair amount of public access rights and are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in addition to specific state laws. However, you may be wondering if emotional support dogs have these same kinds of rights.

Because ESAs are not trained to complete tasks that are specifically related to an individual’s disability, they are not considered service dogs by the ADA or by the majority of state laws. This means that emotional support dogs don’t have the same public access rights as service dogs.

You cannot bring your emotional support dog into areas that are generally dog and pet-free, such as restaurants, stores, and coffee shops.

Understanding the Fair Housing Act

Even though emotional support dogs don’t have wide-reaching public access protections like service dogs do, they are still afforded certain rights under the Fair Housing Act.

This is a federal act that prevents discrimination against those seeking housing. Emotional support dogs are considered an essential animal for some individuals with mental health conditions or other disabilities to live with.

According to the Fair Housing Act, individuals needing to live with their ESA can request accommodations from their landlord or rental agency, and they must be permitted to live with their ESA. Fees, pet rent, and other charges associated with living with the ESA are not allowed to be charged.

Under the Fair Housing Act, individuals are also allowed to request accommodations and live with their dog even in properties that don’t typically allow pets or dogs.

Can I Travel on Airlines With My Emotional Support Dog?

You may be able to travel on airlines with your emotional support dog, but this does depend on the airline you are traveling with. Airlines flying within the United States treat emotional support animals as pets and require a fee accordingly, more on that below.

Some international flights allow ESAs to fly for free. If that’s the case, you will need to register your dog as flying in the cabin with you, submit paperwork to the airline, and provide proof that your dog is an emotional support animal. If you don’t submit a letter detailing this, you may need to pay a fee to ensure that your dog can travel with you.

There may be different size restrictions on international flights, so always check what the airline’s rules are before purchasing a ticket and call the airline if you have any questions.

The Air Carrier Access Act

Previously, the Air Carrier Access Act ensured that ESAs were protected with the right to fly alongside their owner for free, as long as paperwork was turned in before the flight.

In 2021, amendments to this act went into effect. Now, airlines are allowed to classify emotional support animals as pets, while service dogs are afforded the same protections that they have been receiving.

This means that the airline you are traveling with likely has its own rules about whether or not emotional support dogs are accepted. However, you can expect to pay a fee and will likely have to deal with size restrictions. If your emotional support dog is too large, they may have to ride in cargo, regardless of ESA status.

Can I Turn My Dog Into an Emotional Support Animal?

You may be thinking that an emotional support dog is just the thing to help improve your daily life and provide you with comfort to counteract certain aspects of a disability or mental health condition. It’s important to review all of the steps associated with this process so you can be sure to add an emotional support dog into your life the right way.

Before starting this process, note that you can turn a dog or animal that you already own and have a bond with into an emotional support animal. Alternatively, you can adopt a dog for the purpose of providing you companionship and acting as an ESA.

Obtaining an ESA Letter

Obtaining an ESA letter is the first step in making your dog a support animal. To obtain a letter stating your need for an emotional support animal, you will need to meet with your therapist, doctor, or another licensed medical professional.

Your healthcare professional can help talk you through the process of getting an ESA and evaluate your need for one of these dogs. They can also assess your ability to properly care for an emotional support dog as part of your overall treatment and care plan.

Once you have discussed this topic with a medical professional, they will give you a signed letter that states your diagnosis and need for an emotional support dog.

It’s important to keep this document in a safe place. You will need it when requesting accommodations and showing proof that your pup is an emotional support dog and not just a beloved pet.

Understanding Your Rights

After you have an emotional support dog by your side, you will need to ensure you understand your rights, such as what you can and can’t do with your ESA.

Emotional support animals and their owners have the right to live together, even in properties that don’t typically allow pets. However, you won’t have public access rights like the kind that service dogs are granted.

You may have some air travel rights, but this does depend on the airline you are traveling with. Make sure to check how airlines categorize emotional support animals before purchasing tickets to ensure that you can safely and comfortably fly with your pup.

Requesting Accommodations

When looking for new places to live, you will be able to request accommodations from your landlord or rental agency. Every landlord has a different procedure for submitting your accommodation request, but most of the time you will be required to show your letter stating your need for an emotional support dog.

Keep in mind that landlords aren’t allowed to ask for details about what your dog helps you with or the specifics of your disability. The only thing you will need to show is an official document stating that you have need of an emotional support animal in your life.

FAQs About Emotional Support Dogs

dog paws resting on human hands

Emotional support dogs are often a confusing topic, especially if this is your first time learning about these animals and the companionship they provide. Review our answers to the most frequently asked questions about emotional support dogs below to put any lingering worries or concerns to rest.

Can I Live Anywhere With My Emotional Support Dog?

Yes, your emotional support dog is granted legal protection to live alongside you no matter where you end up living.

If you are renting a residence, you will most likely need to officially request accommodations from your landlord or the rental agency. This is to ensure that they know you have an emotional support dog and avoid paying fees or pet rent.

Even properties that may not typically allow pets or dogs will need to grant your accommodation request to live comfortably alongside your emotional support animal.

Can I Take My Emotional Support Dog Into Public?

You can take your emotional support dog into public, but only into areas where dogs are generally permitted.

Emotional support dogs are not service dogs, and they are not granted the same public access rights as service dogs. You cannot take your emotional support dog into a restaurant, store, coffee shop, or other area that is off-limits to dogs. If you attempt to do this, you will likely be turned away by staff.

Do I Need to Train My Emotional Support Dog?

Emotional support dogs differ from service dogs in the fact that they aren’t trained to complete specific tasks that are directly related to an individual’s disability. You do not need to train your emotional support dog, and you might find that your dog easily picks up on when you need emotional support or comfort.

Simply having your emotional support dog by your side is enough to classify this pup as a companion animal that provides mental health benefits. All you need for your ESA to be legitimate is a legally valid letter from your therapist, doctor, or other mental health professional.

Do I Need to Identify My Emotional Support Dog?

You don’t need to identify your emotional support dog, but if you plan on taking your ESA out to public areas (where dogs are generally allowed), you may want to.

Plenty of owners like to ensure their dog stays by their side. So, when they go into public, they use a vest, marked leash, or other identification to show people around them that their dog is an emotional support dog.

Many people who see this will treat your emotional support dog the same as a service dog and give the two of you space to go about your lives. This allows your ESA to act as your comfort companion as needed.

Are Certain Breeds Better Emotional Support Dogs?

Many people are used to seeing golden retrievers, poodles, and German shepherds working in public as service dogs. The truth is that any breed, age, or size of dog can be a service dog with training, and any age, breed, or size of dog can be an emotional support animal.

What matters with emotional support animals isn’t the breed or the amount of tasks that it can perform. The comfort that you receive and the bond you share with your dog is the most important thing. Any dog can provide this to you, so you don’t need to worry about obtaining a specific type of dog as your emotional support animal.

Can a Landlord Refuse My ESA Accommodations?

A landlord may be able to legally refuse your emotional support dog accommodations in certain circumstances. We list these situations below for you to review:

  • Your dog is too large to safely and comfortably fit inside the unit you are applying to live in.
  • Your dog is ill-behaved, causes significant damage to the inside of the unit, or is destructive to outdoor areas on the property.
  • Your dog is aggressive and poses a threat to others living on the property.

Keep in mind that if you believe your accommodation request has been rejected for a reason that isn’t listed above and isn’t valid, you may be dealing with a discrimination issue. Obtain documents that show proof of this and consult a legal professional as needed to ensure you and your emotional support dog are granted your legally protected housing rights.

How Do I Know if I Need a Service Dog or an ESA?

When deciding between types of support or service animals, you may want to ask yourself a few questions about your needs to determine if a service dog or an ESA would suit you better.

For example, if you are visually or hearing impaired and know that you would benefit from a dog providing guidance and mobility support, you would likely be better served by a service dog.

If you have anxiety and occasional panic attacks that are generally managed by your care plan, but you need some extra comfort and support from time to time, an ESA might be better.

When you discuss your needs for a companion animal with your therapist, doctor, or another licensed medical professional, they will help you narrow down your needs. They’ll help you determine what tasks you might need a dog’s assistance with, and help you determine if a service dog or an emotional support animal is needed.

Avoiding Emotional Support Dog Scams

As you start to research adding an emotional support dog to your life, you may come across plenty of websites that offer ESA letters without needing to consult you about your conditions.

These websites might offer you letters or charge huge amounts of money to officially ‘register’ your emotional support animal. It’s important to keep in mind that websites like these are most often a scam.

You will not need to officially register your emotional support animal in any kind of database. You also are not required to provide any kind of certification attesting to your emotional support animal’s validity.

You should also be wary of websites that are charging extreme amounts of money for emotional support animal letters and letters that don’t come from licensed medical professionals.

The only thing you need to ensure your emotional support dog is valid is a diagnosis from a licensed medical professional and a letter attesting to your need for one of these animals.

Obtaining the Animal Companionship You Need

Emotional support dogs are one of the most helpful animal companions out there. These supportive, affectionate pups have been scientifically proven to help relieve symptoms of certain mental health conditions or disabilities with their presence.

Emotional support dogs provide their owners support, confidence, and a sense of routine that helps individuals find relief from symptoms of their disabilities.

If you believe that you would benefit from an emotional support dog, your first step is to evaluate your need and discuss this option with your therapist or doctor. From there, you can begin the process of transitioning your pet dog to an emotional support animal or adopting one of these wonderful, comforting pups.