Service dogs are trained to help those with certain abilities to improve their quality of life. We’ve all seen or at least heard about dogs that help those who are blind, but service dogs or emotional support can help with all manners of medical conditions. Nowadays, it is even possible for you to get a certified ESD for anxiety and depression.
The Top Benefits of Getting an Emotional Support Dog for Anxiety (AKA ESD)
Why would you consider a service dog to help with your depression and anxiety? There’s a good reason for that. In fact, there are plenty of reasons why you’d want one.
- Their mere presence is a comfort. You don’t need to have an anxiety disorder to realize that the presence of any dog can be incredibly relaxing. There’s just something to how they interact which lessens anxiety and stress. One study involving autistic children showed that a visit by a service dog in their home significantly reduced their cortisol levels during and even after the service dog has left. Cortisol is the hormone associated with your stress level.
- They can reduce depression. This has been proven with scientific studies, though the precise reason why has not yet been identified. Of course, it can be a combination of reasons.
- The need to take care of the dogs offers motivation. When a depressed person feels unmotivated to fend for themselves, the needs of the dog can encourage them to return to their life and their responsibilities. Dogs need food and companionship too.
- You don’t feel alone. Dogs aren’t pieces of furniture. They’re more like friends and family. This can help a depressed person to feel less alone when they’re not with other people.
- They love unconditionally. That feeling of being loved without any conditions or strings is something that most of use crave, but very seldom find. But our dogs offer that kind of love and you can feel it with how they act with you. They don’t care what you look like or how rich you are.
- Trained dogs can sense and deal with panic attacks. They can notice incoming signs of a panic attack, when you’re breathing faster and more heavily. Other signs may include pacing or nail-biting. A trained dog for anxiety may lay their head and body against you to provide the deep pressure therapy that often works with a panic attack.
- You can get reminders about taking your medication. If you’re required to take medication at specific times of the day, it can help if you have an ESD for depression. If you have any sense, you’ll use your smartphone as an alarm clock to remind you at the right time. Though you can ignore or even forget about these alerts, your service dog can be trained to bother you incessantly until you take the antidepressants in front of them.
- If you’re afraid of open spaces, they can help. Their nearness makes you feel less vulnerable. People are also more apt to notice your dog more than they will notice you. If you do have a panic attack, your emotional support dog can keep well-meaning strangers from approaching and making things worse for you.
- If you’re afraid of closed spaces, your dog can help you get out. They can be trained to find exits in buildings and stores. It’s a great help if you have claustrophobia and you need open space immediately. Trained dogs have a great sense of direction. They can even find your car in a parking lot, which can avert a different kind of panic attack.
- They can find people who can help when you need it. Those who have anxiety issues often find support from close loved ones in the house. But what if you’re in distress and your spouse isn’t nearby? Your dog can find them when you say their name, when there’s something wrong.
- If you’re afraid of flying, a dog by your side or on your lap reduces your anxiety. Many people experience extreme terror and anxiety when they’re riding a plane. But many of them have found that the presence of a small dog on their lap can reduce the level of that terror considerably.
- Dogs can help you connect with people. They’re natural conversation starters, so much so that lots of single people bring dogs along with them when they go to the park to meet new people. The advantage of having a trained service dog is that if it all becomes too much and you become much more anxious, your dog is trained to keep other people away until you have time to calm down.
Even untrained dogs make most people feel good just by the act of rubbing their furs and their stomachs. For people with problems such as depression and anxiety, such dogs are so useful they’re often prescribed elements of the treatment.
Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals
With all these talk about dogs that offer emotional support, some people may use the terms “service dogs” and “emotional support animals” (ESAs) interchangeably. But these are two different terms. There’s also the “therapy dogs”, and they’re different too.
- Service dog. What sets apart a service dog from ESAs is that service dogs must go through the requisite training necessary for their job. They’re trained to do various tasks that help mitigate the effects of the disability of their owner. So just as a service dog for the blind can help their owner navigate their way across the street, a trained service dog can also do certain tasks for patients with conditions such as anxiety and depression. The training takes a long while, and it usually requires about 18 to 24 months. It’s not just a weekend seminar.
The various tasks that the dog can be trained to do will depend on what you need. For example, they may be trained to offer solace and deep pressure therapy when you’re experiencing a panic attack. They can discourage people from approaching you when you’re anxious and panicking, go to a loved one for help, or even remind you to take your medication.
These dogs aren’t considered mere “pets”. They’re more like medical equipment in their status, so that means they can get into places where usually pets aren’t allowed.
- ESA. Emotional support animals can actually be many types of animals, and they can be dogs and cats, or even reptiles. However, there’s really no need for them to take any sort of training at all. In fact, they’re not considered service animals under the ADA. They just need to be well-behaved, so that they don’t hurt other people and they don’t bark incessantly.
So for the most part, you’re not allowed to take them into restaurants and other places where pets aren’t allowed. However, there are 2 main exceptions to this rule. You can have an ESA dog in an apartment complex that doesn’t allow pets, and you can bring one with you in the airplane cabin when you’re flying even if pets aren’t permitted.
The main benefit of ESAs is that their very presence can help calm you down when you’re anxious or panicking.
If you’re depressed, having an ESA by your side can lift your spirits. This has been proven conclusively in various studies, which is why psychiatrists can prescribe that your treatment includes having your dog with you where you live or when you fly.
- Therapy dogs. These dogs also undergo training, which takes about 8 weeks. However, you don’t own them if you’re the patient. They’re owned by their handlers who work in helping people get better by boosting their spirits.
Therapy dogs are tested after training, and after passing the tests they’re registered and then insured.
They accompany their handler in the visits to hospitals, nursing homes, and the homes of sick patients. However, they cannot enter the facilities without the consent of the facility owner or manager.
That’s why you have a registration process. The whole process shows to facility owners that the dog behaves very well, won’t harm other people, and they’re insured against liability. If you’re the patient, you may enjoy the visit of a therapy dog. But at the end of the day they go home with their own handlers, and they don’t stay with you indefinitely.
Do You Need an Emotional Support Dog?
First you need to have a condition serious enough to be considered a disability. Your psychiatrist can help determine if you do have this condition. However, you may well benefit from a service dog or an ESA when you have any of the following conditions.
- Severe anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Mood disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
If you have any of the conditions here, your psychiatrist can help you find out how to get a therapy dog for anxiety and depression. Even if your condition isn’t listed here, you may still be able to get an ESA or a service dog if your psychiatrist prescribes them as part of your treatment.
Which Breeds Make the Best Emotional Support Dogs?
Dogs have been around mankind for centuries, and they weren’t always used for hunting and guarding. It seems obvious that some dogs were bred and raised simply to act as companion dogs. They just make life for people better. But some dogs are better suited to provide therapy and emotional support than others.
Here are some dog breeds for anxiety and depression you should be looking at:
- Yorkshire terrier: The first ever official therapy dog as a Yorkie, in fact. Dr. Charles Mayo (the man who started the famous Mayo Clinic) brought along a Yorkie named Smokey on his rounds in a US Navy hospital during WWII. The doctor had noticed just how well the small pup boosted the morale of injured servicemen. Yorkies are brave, energetic, and eager to interact with people. It’s not surprising that they make for perfect therapy dogs.
- Beagle: These little guys are curious and friendly, and they like being around other people and other dogs. Uno the beagle, who won the 2008 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, even became a certified therapy dog after winning, and now visits nursing homes and hospitals.
- Bichon Frise: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these cuties make for wonderful service dogs for those with conditions like depression and anxiety. They were bred for companionship, and they started out as companions for sailors on long sea journeys. Soon the breed became a favorite of the nobility as well. They’re very affectionate and easily trained, and they don’t shed their hair.
- Pug: It’s not a random choice that resulted in a pug’s face as the symbol of the Winchester Hospital pet therapy program. These dogs are delightfully playful, and they’re very demonstrative of their devotion to their human companions. They just want to please people, and it’s been found that they’re a great choice as best emotional support dogs for children with autism.
- Dachshund: Their long bodies and short legs can make you smile just by looking at them. But they’re also playful and affectionate. They’ve proven to be of great help for patients with all types of conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, autism, and epilepsy.
- King Charles spaniel: For centuries, royals have had dogs of this breed as loyal companions. Lots of highborn nobles have these dogs sitting on their laps in their official portraits. As it turns out, they’re very well-suited for patients of all ages, as they’re very obedient and even-tempered. They’re especially great for children, as they’re very small and their friendliness and calm demeanor matches well with children with emotional issues.
- French bulldog: These dogs were the result of careful selection of bigger bulldogs that focused on smaller dogs that would work well as lap dogs. But it’s not just their size that makes them perfect for therapy. They’re also even-tempered, affectionate, and non-confrontational.
- Corgi: Queen Elizabeth II has 4 of these cuties, and the characteristics that make them perfect for royalty also makes the breed an ideal choice for emotional support dogs. They’re very friendly, and they’re also naturally obedient so they’re easier to train.
- Poodles: Poodles are cute and everyone finds it easy to love their cute look. But what really makes poodles among the best dogs for emotional support is that these dogs are extremely intelligent so they take to training very well. They’re also hypoallergenic, so they’re great for those with allergies.
- Chihuahua: Their small size makes it easy for you to bring them everywhere you go, so you can get the emotional support and therapy you need all the time. But these small guys are very confident, alert, and smart, so they can take to training very well and also easy to groom.
In general, the smaller breeds are better-suited for this task. They can get along well even with small apartments, and their small size can comply with many airline guidelines regarding service dogs. They’re also small enough that you can carry them anywhere and you can put them on your lap or on your bed with no trouble.
How Do You Get One?
If you want to know how to get an emotional support dog, all you need to do is to find a dog that calms you down. That may be different for each individual. We all have our personal preferences.
But when you do find a dog that keeps you calm when you’re anxious or boosts your spirits when you’re depressed, then your psychiatrist or licensed counselor can include your dog as an official part of your medical treatment.
They can then write a note to that effect, so you can bring them with you when you travel and live with you in your home. You can then have the dog certified.
It’s a different matter if you need to know how to get an ESD for anxiety and other serious problems. First your condition must warrant the need for such a highly trained dog in the first place.
It must be so serious that it’s like any other major disability that hinders your ability to perform major tasks on your own. Such activities can include going out to buy groceries, having social interactions, or just driving a car.
You have 2 basic options:
(1) You have to find a reputable organization (again your psychiatrist can help with this) and they can provide you with the dog you need. The dog starts with basic training, and then they’re matched up with you.
The two of you then train as handler and service dog together so that you can bond with each other while the service dog also learns more about you. The extra training includes learning various tasks that are specific to your problem.
(2) The initial cost can reach as much as $20,000. That doesn’t count the regular workshops that you and your dog must attend to maintain and fine-tune the service dog’s skills.
It is also possible that you already have a dog you love, and you can have them trained as an ESD. That can cut the cost down to about $7,000 a year, so that’s $14,000 for 2 years of training. Again, that doesn’t include the costs of new workshops.
It is technically possible that you can train the dog yourself to be a service dog. But that’s not a realistic goal. You need to know how to get a dog for anxiety and depression and that means special training from real experts.
Emotional Support Dogs and Air Travel
This particular issue has been particularly confusing, because not everyone is clear about the law. Airlines may have different guidelines, and then there’s the problem with international travel.
There has also been a widely reported attack by an emotional support dog on a fellow airline passenger, which didn’t help. It’s also true that some airline personnel can refuse your ESA even though it’s legal for you to bring them along.
However, the ADA guidelines cover the issue of service dogs and air travel. If you’re traveling in the US with a service dog or an emotional support dog, you need proper documentation.
- This must be current, meaning that it was created less than a year before your flight.
- The documentation must be on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional.
- The note must state that you have a mental condition that’s recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition.
- It says that you need your dog as part of your air travel and/or to help you with your activities at your destination.
- The person who wrote this note also states that they’re a licensed metal health professional and you’re under their professional care.
- The note also discloses the date and type of the mental health professional’s license, along with the state in which the license was issued.
Call the airline well before you travel to confirm that your dog can be accommodated. You may have to also provide some documentation that the dog won’t relieve themselves on the flight, or at least your dog can relieve themselves in a way that won’t pose a sanitation issue on the flight.
It really helps if you can prove that your dog is really there for emotional support if they’re registered with the National Service Animal Registry. Basically, however, your service dog should be able to sit with you on the plane. If the dog obstructs an aisle or an emergency area, you should be offered a chance to move to another area of the plane where you and your dog can be accommodated.
Emotional Support Dogs and Housing
Even when your apartment complex doesn’t allow pets, if you have a service dog or an ESA, you can have them with you. That’s according to the law (Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988).
There are exceptions, however, so you may not be able to have your ESA in the following circumstances:
- The apartment complex has fewer than 4 units and the landlord lives in one of them.
- You want to live in a motel or a hotel.
- You’re renting a single family home without a real estate broker.
In general, the landlord cannot deny you housing simply because they have “no pets” rules in place. Here are some other things they cannot do legally:
- They can’t refuse you your ESA because of their insurance policy.
- They can’t make you pay a fee or a fine for your ESA, even if there’s a pet deposit required for non-ESA pets.
- They can’t ask for documentation regarding your disability.
- They can’t force you to have your dog wear a vest or a collar identifying your pet as an ESA.
As the tenant, here are your responsibilities:
- You should have your ESA documentation ready if your landlord asks for it.
- You must make sure that your dog is well-behaved at all times. They mustn’t cause a disturbance or be destructive. If they show aggressive behavior, you must remove them from public areas immediately.
So do you need an emotional support dog for anxiety and depression? Talk to your mental health professional. They’re the one who can expedite the process to make sure that your treatment includes everything you need for your condition. Hopefully, you’ll feel better once your dog is with you at all times!
Infographic created by Autism Home Support Services a provider of autism therapy for kids