Emotional Support Dog (ESA)

As of February 2021, there are 84 million pet dogs registered in the USA. That equates to 67% of American households and a large proportion of these dogs are emotional support dogs. Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs are classed as pets, but what do they do?

Emotional Support Dog (ESA)

The recent global lockdowns caused by the coronavirus have only increased the number of people waiting to be paired with an emotional support dog and the list gets longer all the time.

What does ESA mean?

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are defined as “animals that provide assistance for the relief of symptoms of an emotional, mental, or behavioral disability” (US Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2013.)

Patient-owned pets are the most common form of ESA. These animals often provide intense relief to individuals with depression, anxiety disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (DSM-V).

What do emotional support dogs do?

Traditional service dogs assist physical disabled or impaired people to go about their daily lives. This might include aiding someone who is wheelchair-bound or suffers from vision loss. An emotional therapy dog is different.

They help people with mental and emotional difficulties navigate situations that other people don’t even think about. Something as simple as walking to the supermarket could be an impossible idea for someone who suffers from severe anxiety or a personality disorder.

Emotional support dogs aid a person by providing affection, structure or comfort during times of increased emotional stress.

Do I qualify for an emotional support animal?

To be assessed for an emotional support dog, a person must speak with their doctor. Conditions that qualify for an emotional support dog include:

  • Personality disorders
  • Severe anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Autism

The process of getting an emotional support dog differs between countries. Currently, the US is much more progressive than the UK when it comes to emotional support dogs and the process is much easier to navigate.

In the US, you can speak to your doctor and fill in a short form. All you need is a doctor’s recommendation that an emotional support dog would be beneficial to the management of your emotional or mental health condition.

In the UK, a person cannot receive an emotional support dog unless they have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. A certification cannot be obtained without an official diagnosis.

This diagnosis must come from a licensed mental health practitioner such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. Even in this instance, doctors in the UK tend to recommend emotional support dogs to those people who are most severely impacted by their condition. For example, people with agoraphobia or PTSD would qualify, however, someone with mild depression may not.

There is also no formal standard assessment in place for the UK, with the government still to decide on a proper procedure.

Where can you buy an emotional support dog?

You do not need to apply for an emotional support dog if you already own a dog. Anyone can take their dog through a training course via an emotional support dog charity. The Emotional Support Animals UK Registry is one such charity.

Once your dog has passed the training course, they can be registered as a certified emotional support dog. To register, the owner of the dog must have a medical assessment letter signed by their doctor or mental health professional.

In the UK, registration for a dog to receive an emotional support membership is around £50 per year, provided they have a training certificate. Prices for the training course are either a set fee or charged per training session. In America, costing is based on per hour of training, which ranges from $150 – $250.

Alternatively, you can adopt a dog that already has an emotional support certificate or you can buy a dog from an emotional support trainer. The cost depends upon the country and the breed of the dog. Generally, prices vary between £1000 and £10,00 in the UK and $5,000 – $20,000 in the US.

Best emotional support dogs for anxiety

There is no substitute for petting your dog in a time of emotional need. And a dog can truly uplift a person in any emotional situation, let alone when the going is truly terrible. Here are 8 dog breeds that will make great emotional support dogs for anxiety sufferers.

  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. Yorkshire Terrier
  3. Beagle
  4. Corgi
  5. Pug
  6. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  7. Pomeranian
  8. Golden Retriever

Can you bring an emotional support animal to school?

First of all, an ESA is not the same as a service animal. And secondly, ESAs don’t have the same rights in public places under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as service animals. So they can’t go wherever you go.

Many students with anxiety disorders or social phobias believe that its therapeutic nature can help with their schoolwork. However, the law provides no provision for ESAs in public places.

Therapy vs. emotional support dog
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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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