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Anyone who owns a dog will know they can be a source of great friendship, companionship, and emotional stability.
Just owning a pet can see people living longer and healthier lives. But therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists might also prescribe an Emotional Support Animal to vulnerable people who need additional support.
Emotional Support Animals, also known as ESAs, are any animal specially trained to provide comfort and relief from the symptoms of certain emotional disorders.
While any dog with the right temperament can be trained to be an ESA, there are some breeds that are better suited to the role than others.
Below, you will find a list of the 10 breeds most suited to be emotional support dogs, as well as a list of the characteristics that are most important when it comes to choosing an emotional support dog.
But, of course, when choosing the right ESA for you, make sure you also think about lifestyle considerations, such as the amount of space and level of exercise the dog needs.
Luckily, the list includes some of the biggest breeds, as well as pups that will easily fit in your handbag.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- What Is An Emotional Support Dog?
- Characteristics Of A Good Emotional Support Dog
- 10 Best Emotional Support Dog Breeds
- The Verdict
- Save To Pinterest
- Top Picks For Our Dogs
What Is An Emotional Support Dog?
First and foremost, it is important to differentiate between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs, both of which can be prescribed by a medical practitioner.
Service Dogs include animals such as the dogs used by the visually and hearing impaired. These animals are not considered pets, but rather Service Dogs, and therefore, are able to accompany their owner wherever they go, including restaurants, hotels, on airplanes, and so forth.
These animals require highly specialized training to provide the support required by their owners.
While Emotional Support Dogs are also prescribed and may require training, it is on a different and less strictly regulated level than Service Dogs.
While an Emotional Support Dog could be prescribed for almost any condition, you will most commonly see them prescribed in association with attention deficit disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, cognitive disorders, depression, general anxiety disorder, learning disorders, post- traumatic stress disorders, and severe anxiety.
Legally, Emotional Support Dogs do not require any specific training to fulfill their role, but they will very often be trained to perform specific tasks that are designed to reduce stress and anxiety, such as deep pressure therapy.
It is not necessary to license Emotional Support Animals, but it is generally a good idea to do so.
This license will enable you to take your dog into accommodations that have a no-pets policy, including hotels, and will allow you to take your dog on transport with you, including airplanes, as long as you advise the airline at least 48 hours in advance.
Characteristics Of A Good Emotional Support Dog
While any dog, and indeed any animal, can be used as an Emotional Support Animal, some will be more well suited to the task than others.
Generally speaking, they should be docile and have a friendly temperament, should be intelligent and trainable, and form bonds with people quickly and be able to “read” people’s emotional states.
More specifically, the characteristics of a good Emotional Support Dog include:
- Trainable – Emotional Support Dogs should be highly trainable not only so they can learn specific techniques associated with emotional support but also to ensure they are very well-behaved in the home. When struggling with emotional issues, you want a dog that will respond quickly to commands such as sit and stay, rather than ignoring you are causing further frustration.
- Affectionate – Dogs that form a close bond with their owner make better EMAs as they are more in tune with their owner’s energy levels and emotions. This makes them better able to respond to moments of emotional challenge without necessarily being told what to do.
- Intelligent – Intelligent dogs are generally easier to train and better at reading the emotions of people. Intelligent dogs can be challenging for some owners as they need a lot of attention, but they can be easier to deliver in an intimate emotional support relationship.
- Social – As emotional support dogs may accompany you to public places, they need to know how to behave properly around other people and other animals.
- Docile – Dogs that are overly excitable can sometimes create greater tension within the home during times of high tension, especially if they are not well-trained. Dogs that bark excessively or have a habit of jumping should generally be avoided.
- Strong Character – While docile animals are recommended, timid dogs are not. Dogs that are too timid may find themselves unable to engage with their owner in darker moments.
Many people will choose to train their existing animal to work as their emotional support dog, as they have an existing relationship. But if you are choosing a new dog for this purpose, one that has the above characteristics will work best.
The size of the dog depends on you and your lifestyle. Small dogs are better for apartment life and if you are looking for a dog that can go with you everywhere. But large dogs can be better if your anxiety relates to security and personal safety.
You can read our complete guide on training emotional support dogs here.
10 Best Emotional Support Dog Breeds
If you are looking for a new dog to act as your emotional support animal, the following breeds all have the characteristics to do a good job.
They are all purebred dogs as their temperament is more predictable. But there is nothing to say that your existing mixed breed dog can’t do the job, but you need to decide on the basis of their individual temperament.
It should be no surprise to anyone to see our beloved Labradors topping the list. They are at the top of most lists of working dogs. Intelligent, gentle, and loving, they are ideal emotional support animals.
While they will do a good job of it without any specific training because they are natural people pleasers, another advantage with Labradors is that they are incredibly easy to train through reward because they are so food-motivated. Just watch their waistline for them.
They have an affectionate temperament, they are generally docile and behave well around strangers and other animals, and despite being relatively large, they are generally careful and rarely have the type of accidents where they injure someone because they don’t know their own strength.
Labradors have lots of energy and need to be exercised for about an hour a day, but as long as they are getting their exercise needs met, they are patient and won’t mind sitting around for hours should it prove necessary.
American Labs are generally more energetic then their American counterparts. If you’re looking for a more docile, easy going Lab you’ll want to look into getting an English Labrador Retriever.
Golden Retrievers are very similar to Labrador Retrievers in their temperament, which means they too are ideal to act as Emotional Support Animals, as well as a variety of other working roles.
They are intelligent, gentle, and friendly. They also have a face that looks friendly, which means they are generally welcome in public spaces as people don’t tend to be afraid of them, despite their size.
The biggest problem with Golden Retrievers and Labradors is generally that they shed a lot, so people don’t always like having them around the house. If this is a concern, you could try a Goldendoodle or Labradoodle, which is one of these dogs mixed with a Poodle, as they have a low-shedding coat.
While crossbred dogs are usually a risk, Poodles are also intelligent and affectionate, which is why they are the next animal on our list.
Poodles get a reputation as being a bit snobby and high maintenance thanks to Hollywood, but they are, in fact, one of the most intelligent and affectionate dog breeds.
Poodles were bred to be companion dogs rather than for a certain kind of work, so they just love being around people. They are also very good at reading people and picking up on their emotions.
One of the most intelligent breeds, they can adapt to unfamiliar situations and they are also incredibly easy to train
Poodles are also easy to keep around the house. They come in a variety of sizes, so you can get one that is right for your home, and they don’t tend to shed or drool.
However, they do require a good amount of grooming as their coats can easily become knotted and their coats needed to be trimmed regularly.
American Staffordshire Terrier
While they might look like they belong in the fighting ring, this misunderstood breed is well-suited to the role of an emotional support animal.
These dogs are very friendly and get on with most people. They will quickly form a bond with their owners.
This is also an intelligent breed, which means they are easy to train. They aren’t likely to cause a nuisance of themselves, and they will pick up on therapeutic techniques quickly.
The biggest challenge with this breed is if you want to take them everywhere with you. While ship assistants and waitresses might accept a little Yorkshire Terrier in their establishment if you say they are an ESA, the size and reputation of these bigger Terriers does mean people can be less accommodating.
Yorkshire Terriers love to be needed, so they will feel very fulfilled by the role of Emotional Support Animal and perform the required tasks very well. It is not unusual to see this breed going above and beyond to help the people in their lives.
They are highly intuitive pups, which means they can read emotional states and intuit how to respond without being told. But they are also intelligent and trainable, so will follow orders, even in the most chaotic of situations.
Their small size means these dogs are easy to handle, can live in fairly cramped conditions, and most people won’t cause too much of a fuss if you want to take your Yorkshire Terrier with you wherever you go.
Border Collies are an intelligent breed that are also people pleasers. They love being around people, and there is nothing they like more than learning new tasks, so they can be praised for getting them right later.
This breed tends to form a fast bond with any people they spend a lot of time with, so they will quickly understand their owner’s mood and emotional states.
Border Collies need a lot of attention and can actually get depressed if they are left on their own for too long.
This means that working as an ESA is also great for them, as it usually means they get to spend lots of lots of time with their people.
Corgis are relatively smalller dogs with a friendly demeanor. They are intelligent and independent, which means they can read people and situations and quickly figure out what exactly is required of them.
Corgis love affection and enjoy being touched and petted. They are happiest when they are the center of attention, so they won’t mind spending hours with their person, even if it is kind of doing nothing.
This is another dog that looks very friendly. Their big smile is contagious and can put a smile on most people’s faces. Their size and friendly demeanor means they are also generally welcome wherever they go.
Chihuahuas are another breed that has a less than great reputation, this time as little yappers. But, when trained properly and socialized with people and animals from a young age, they will learn to bite their tongues.
These little pups that thrive in apartments, and you can pretty much take anywhere. They have loving personalities that make them well-suited to providing emotional support.
They are very alert, so they aren’t likely to miss any symptoms of a crisis from their humans.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
There might be few things more calming than running your fingers through the silky smooth coat of a Cavalier Kings Charles Spaniel.
These little dogs do have a lot of energy, but that just tends to mean they are alert rather than a handful. They have a sweet disposition and love receiving attention and cuddles, so will happily curl up on the couch with their owner for hours at a time.
The breed is highly intelligent, so they are trainable, adaptable, and good at reading situations and knowing what is expected of them without being told.
These pooches are also friendly with other pups and people, so are generally safe to take into public areas or private spaces.
Because of their large size and the fact that they often work in roles like police dogs, German Shepherds are often stereotyped as dangerous and aggressive. But this reputation is undeserved, and they make excellent Emotional Support Animals.
Another highly intelligent breed, they are easy to train. They are also gentle and friendly, which means they are actually fantastic with kids.
They can also be a good choice for older people or anyone with mobility difficulties, as their size and strength mean they can provide physical support as well as emotional support.
What Dog Breeds Are Good For Emotional Support?
Dog breeds that are intelligent, social, and naturally affectionate make the best emotional support dogs. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are always a good choice, as are some smaller breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Chihuahuas.
Where Do You Get Emotional Support Dogs?
Anyone can get an Emotional Support Dog. You can train your own dog to fulfill the task, or many animal shelters will train suitable candidates for this purpose.
Do Emotional Support Dogs Fly For Free?
Within the US, regulations allow for Emotional Support Animals to fly for free in the cabin with their owner. But you must advise the airline at least 48 hours in advance and have the relevant documentation. The situation is more complicated on international flights due to different regulations in other countries and the requirement to quarantine animals.
Just owning and spending time with a dog can provide a great level of emotional support that can improve quality of life. But for those who need a little extra support, the prescription of an emotional support dog can be life changing.
Being able to take your dog into the most stressful situations can help a lot, and they can learn a lot of useful techniques for reducing stress.
While any dog can become an Emotional Support Animal, some breeds are better suited to the role than others.
Generally speaking, they need to be intelligent, social, and affectionate. Labradors and Golden Retrievers top the list of suitable dog breeds, but there are many more than are also a great choice.
Do you have an Emotional Support Dog?
What is your experience of choosing, training and working with them?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Save To Pinterest
Top Picks For Our Dogs
- BEST PUPPY TOY
We Like: Snuggle Puppy w/ Heart Beat & Heat Pack - Perfect for new puppies. We get all of our Service Dog pups a Snuggle Puppy.
- BEST CHEW TOY
We Like: KONG Extreme - Great toy for heavy chewers like our Labrador Retrievers.
- BEST DOG TREATS
We Like: Wellness Soft Puppy Bites - One of our favorite treats for training our service dog puppies.
- BEST FRESH DOG FOOD
We Like: The Farmer's Dog - A couple months ago we started feeding Raven fresh dog food and she loves it! Get 50% off your first order of The Farmer's Dog.
For a list of all the supplies we get for our new service dog puppies check out our New Puppy Checklist on the PuppyInTraining.com blog.