The short answer to the question of whether you can get an emotional support dog for anxiety is yes. The rest of this article focuses on what that means, exactly, what it entails and how to go about doing it properly and effectively.
How Emotional Support Dogs Help With Anxiety
Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million Americans, making them the most common of mental illnesses in the US. Lately, more and more of these anxiety sufferers are discovering the value of emotional support dogs to help with that anxiety.
Dogs are affectionate, loving, attentive and loyal by nature. Numerous clinical studies have revealed that companionship with dogs provide benefits to humans across both physical and psychological spectrums, including helping to regulate blood pressure, heart rate and levels of cortisol, the “stress” hormone. According to research conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) dogs help people to feel less lonely, increase their confidence, improve their sense of purpose and lower anxiety. Dogs provide these benefits whether they’re pets or emotional support dogs.
Emotional support dogs, in fact, are merely dogs owned explicitly for the purpose of helping aid a person with a mental or emotional disability. They are authorized for free access to certain places not accessible to pet dogs (or at least, in cases, not accessible to pet dogs for free.) As such, emotional support dogs offer all the benefits of a pet dog and then some. Among the many ways emotional support dogs in particular help alleviate symptoms of anxiety are by providing consistent and reliable:
- Positive physical contact
- Non-judgmental, unconditional love
- Feelings of safety and a sense of security, or being protected
If you experience anxiety, an emotional support dog may be able to help reduce the frequency and intensity of your anxiety symptoms, improve your general mood and demeanor, empower you to get out of bed and out of the house and take proactive actions in your life. This, in turn, can help you improve your ability to socialize, get an education or earn an income, form intimate relationships, explore the world around you and generally enjoy more of life.
Qualifying for an Emotional Support Dog with Anxiety
Emotional support dogs are available to anyone with a mental or emotional disability or disorder listed in the DMS-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) As such, to get an emotional support dog for anxiety, you first need a licensed physician or mental health care practitioner (LMHP) to diagnose you with an anxiety disorder.
Having an anxiety diagnosis alone, however, is insufficient for getting an emotional support dog. In order to fully meet the qualifications for an emotional support dog, that anxiety must impede on your ability to function normally in certain areas of life, like living on your own or flying on a plane. Moreover, having that emotional support dog must demonstrably help you to better perform those functions.
Difference Between an Emotional Support Dog and a Psychiatric Service Dog for Anxiety
Emotional support dogs serve their purpose simply by existing. Rather than being trained to perform specific activities, they provide basic comfort, companionship and affection.
By contrast, a psychiatric service dog, like a service dog, is trained to perform specific activities for a person with a disability. In the case of a psychiatric service dog, this is of course a psychiatric disability. Anxiety does qualify as a psychiatric disability, and people with certain types or degrees of anxiety might require a psychiatric service dog. For these folks, an emotional support dog that only serves its purpose by its presence but does not perform any specific tasks may not be enough. Rather, they may require a psychiatric service dog that can perform tasks like:
- Seeking aid or retrieving medicine during a moment of crisis
- Laying across the inpidual during an anxiety attack to give deep pressure therapy
- Providing medication reminders
- Recognizing when the person needs licking or nuzzling to provide tactile grounding
- Searching the home for intruders
A psychiatric service dog has the same rights as a service dog does for a physically-disabled person, which are considerably greater than those granted to an emotional support dog. Unlike an emotional support dog, whose rights only extend to airports/airplanes and housing, a psychiatric service dog is allowed to accompany its handler into any public place, including movie theaters, doctors’ offices, malls, public transportation and hospitals.
If you think an emotional support dog may be inadequate to meet your needs and that a psychiatric service dog may be more appropriate for you, the process of getting one is considerably different. The first step is discuss the matter with your doctor.
How to Get an Emotional Support Dog for Anxiety
As mentioned earlier, the first thing to do to get an emotional support dog for anxiety is to meet with a physician or LMHP. That professional must be licensed to practice in your state of residence.
Discuss with that professional your anxiety, being sure to describe the symptoms you experience and how they impair your ability to live an otherwise normal life. Then, proceed to tell the professional how you believe an emotional support dog might aid you in alleviating some of those symptoms so you can proceed to live that more normal life.
Once the doctor or LMHP sees that you have a legitimate anxiety disorder that impedes on your life and agrees that an appropriate medical tool to treat this anxiety disorder could be an emotional support dog, he or she can sign an emotional support animal letter for you. This letter, commonly called an ESA letter, is the only documentation required to legally possess an emotional support dog. Without this document, that dog is, by all rights at lest, just a pet.
Sample of ESA Letter
With an ESA letter, however, that dog is officially classified as an emotional support dog with access to all the rights afforded to an emotional support dog, although some landlords and airports or airlines might require additional paperwork in order to rent you a home or allow you on a plane with that dog.
The only other thing you need after that is an actual dog to be your emotional support dog. If you don’t already have a dog in mind, such as a pet dog who has already been serving that role for you (if only in an “unofficial” capacity), or you’re unsure whether to make your pet dog your emotional support dog, read on to learn how to choose the right emotional support dog for your anxiety.
Choosing an Emotional Support Dog for Anxiety
While dogs in general provide immeasurable emotional support, not all dogs make equally great emotional support dogs. An emotional support dog may not need to be trained in any specific duties, it’s true, but in order to be a good emotional support dog, a dog nevertheless must at least be well-behaved. A dog must also be in good health and in control of its faculties. For these reasons, a young puppy or an old dog may not make the best emotional support dog.
What’s more, to be a good emotional support dog for a person with anxiety, a dog must be calm and quiet, or at least able to be so when required, such as in public places or when the owner is in emotional need of it. An emotional support dog cannot be nervous, restless, anxious, aloof, aggressive, destructive or in greater medical or emotional need than the dog’s owner him or herself. A traumatized dog, therefore, may not make the best emotional support dog, particularly for a person with anxiety.
Any dog meeting these criteria can make a good emotional support dog for a person with anxiety. That said, certain breeds of dog are particularly well-suited to being emotional support dogs in general and for people with anxiety in particular.
The Best Emotional Support Dogs for Anxiety
The following breeds make particularly great emotional support dogs for anxiety because they possess the right combination of key qualities required for such an animal including being friendly, loyal, affectionate, loving, outgoing, calm and confident.
Golden retrievers and German shepherds are popularly used as service dogs due, in part, to their calm temperaments, making them aptly suited to be emotional support dogs for anxiety as well. Border collies are popular family dogs, in part because of how good they are with kids. Those same qualities of playfulness, affection and gentleness that make them great for families with kids also make them excellent emotional support dogs for anxiety.
Basset hounds are a gentle and loving breed that get along with everyone, human and animal. Newfoundlands are cuddly, patient and calm, making them great for people who want a large dog as their emotional support dog. Another large dog breed well-suited to be an emotional support dog for anxiety are great pyrenees, known for their calm, stalwart, loyal demeanor. For people who have allergies or an aversion to shedding, poodles and Maltese are perfect choices of hypoallergenic emotional support dogs. Corgis are intelligent, calm and affectionate, making them great emotional support dogs for soothing and preventing anxiety attacks. They also make great cuddlers. Both the English, French and American Bulldogs are also calm breeds that can help a person prone to nervousness, stress and agitation to stay calm. Greyhounds are the trifecta of emotional support dogs for anxiety, offering calm, confidence and sweetness.
Other dog breeds that make good emotional support dogs for anxiety include:
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Bichon Frise
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Cocker Spaniel
- Great Dane
- Laborador Retriever
- Lhasa Apso
- Saint Bernard
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Yorkshire Terrier
What Size Emotional Support Dog to Get for Anxiety
Do small dogs or large dogs make better emotional support dogs for anxiety?
The truth is that both small and large dogs can make excellent emotional support dogs for anxiety. Different dogs, however, make better emotional support dogs for certain anxiety sufferers. For people who want to take their emotional support dog with them wherever they go, for example, a smaller dog might make the better choice. For people who need help feeling safe, secure, confident and protected, a larger dog might be more suitable.
If you’re concerned about the financial cost of owning a dog, smaller dogs tend to be less expensive to own. If you’re concerned about a dog being hyperactive with lots of energy to burn, larger dogs tend to be calmer. If you like to cuddle, you could prefer either a small or large dog depending on whether you want to fold the animal into your embrace or feel the animal’s weight pressed up against you.