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Your Guide on How to Get an Emotional Support Dog

Every dog parent knows the benefits of having a dog, from getting themselves out for daily walks(exercise) to getting unconditional love. However, for some people with mental conditions, whether anxiety or depression, the pet is critical to their ability to operate usually every day. The presence of a dog provides emotional support and comfort to help them deal with life’s many hurdles. These pets are known as emotional support animals (ESAs).

Emotional Support Dog Overview

Emotional Support Dog Overview

While all dogs offer emotional support to their owners, the pet must be legally considered an emotional support dog. The pet must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that the animal’s presence is indeed needed for the patient’s wellbeing. Emotional support dogs can be of any age and any breed.

Know The Difference: Emotional Support Dog vs. Service Dogs

Emotional support dogs provide comfort through unconditional companionship and help ease feelings of anxiety, panic, and phobias. 

Emotional support dogs are not service dogs, nor do their owners receive the same accommodations. A service dog, such as a guide dog, is usually allowed anywhere in public; Emotional support dogs are not. For example, Emotional support dogs are not allowed to accompany their owners into some establishments.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) explains service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Dogs that only provide emotional support do not qualify as service animals. Some state’s local laws have a broader interpretation, so be sure to stay up to date with local agencies to learn if your support dog qualifies for public access.

The main difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog is whether the animal was trained to execute a specific assignment or job directly related to the owner’s disability. For example, service dogs are trained to warn a hearing-impaired person of an alarm or guide a visually impaired patient out of danger or comfort someone with PTSD suffering from a sudden panic attack.

Emotional Support Dogs vs. Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs fall within the service dogs category. These helpers require comprehensive training to work with people with mental illnesses. These dogs are trained to detect psychiatric episodes and help mitigate their effects. 

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to do specific jobs that help the owner cope with a mental disorder. In some cases, the dog might remind the owner to take medications, keep a confused person in a dissociative state from wandering into a hazardous situation or look for items for an incapacitated person. If it is simply the dog’s presence that helps relieve the person’s anxiety, the dog does not qualify as a psychiatric service dog.

How To Get An Emotional Support Animal

To register your dog as an ESA, you will need a prescription from a mental health professional. This is essentially just a signed note affirming that you suffer from a mental health condition and that your dog helps you cope with it. Some proprietors and airlines take letters from a medical doctor but consider getting it from a therapist or a psychiatrist.

Of course, you also need to have a reliable dog. There’s no specialized training required. That means that if you already own a dog, you can probably get it registered as an ESA. If you don’t already own a dog, getting an ESA is pretty much the same as adopting any other pet! You’ll need to determine what kind of pet is best for your situation and circumstances and look up local adoption centers. 

Are Emotional Support Dogs Allowed To Travel?

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) announced in December 2020 its final revisions to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Since January 2021, service animals, regardless of breed or type, are exclusively trained to perform tasks to benefit individuals with a disability (physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or intellectual other mental disability). 

The revisions also explain that emotional support dogs are not considered “service animals” under the new DOT definition. Instead, airlines may admit and accommodate emotional support animals as pets, meaning you probably won’t get to hold him while in the air. 


Emotional support dogs can play an essential role in a person suffering from mental or emotional conditions. Before getting a pet and registering it as an ESA, it is essential to thoughtfully consider the obligations that come with it and ask yourself Can you take care of an animal? Consider whether or not you can care for it physically and, most importantly, financially. If you can’t accommodate a dog, consider a lower-maintenance ESA like a cat. 

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