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The Best Emotional Support Dogs for Your Specific Need

15 minutes read
Learn everything you need to know about the best emotional support dog breeds and how to get an ESA letter documenting your need for an emotional support dog.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

If you are one of the millions of Americans living with a mental illness or an emotional disability, you know how challenging it can be to cope with the demands of daily life. From anxiety and depression to PTSD and phobias, mental health issues are a constant source of worry for people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. 

One strategy that many people have found effective in living with a mental illness is to get an emotional support animal. As the most common emotional support animals, dogs are well known for their remarkable ability to help their owners deal with stressful situations. 

Not all dog breeds have the same temperaments and attributes, so it’s worth thinking carefully before choosing an emotional support dog. Depending on your specific circumstances and living situation, it’s likely that certain breeds are particularly well suited to provide you with the exact kind of emotional support you need.  

Is an ESA right for you? Take our quiz to find out!

The Bottom Line

  • What are emotional support dogs? Emotional support dogs provide their owners with comfort and companionship to help alleviate the symptoms of a mental illness or emotional disability.
  • What dogs are good for emotional support? Golden Retrievers, Standard Poodles, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are popular emotional support dog breeds. Consider factors like energy level, living space, and size when choosing an emotional support dog.
  • What breeds should you avoid? Airedales, Chow Chows, and Australian Cattle Dogs are among the least popular ESA dogs. However, regardless of breed, every dog has a unique bond with its owner, so there are not necessarily breeds you should avoid entirely – it all depends on the dog that best fits your personality and lifestyle. 
  • How do you get an emotional support dog? If you already have a dog that provides emotional support, you already have an emotional support dog! Prospective owners may want to contact rescue organizations to adopt a suitable dog.

Get your ESA letter today.

Although it is not required to “register” or “certify” your emotional support dog, having an ESA letter can be very useful to ensure you can live with your dog without paying pet fees. It may also help you bring your dog to work or public places. One of Pettable’s licensed therapists can guide you through the entire process online.

What Are Emotional Support Dogs?

To put it simply, an emotional support dog is any dog that provides its owner with companionship, thus helping to ease the symptoms of a mental illness or emotional disability. Emotional support dogs help individuals with anxiety, depression, PTSD, phobias, and many other mental health conditions. 

Any animal can become an emotional support animal if it provides a comforting presence to its owner, and any dog breed can be an emotional support dog. For example, the company of an emotional support dog may make it easier for a person with anxiety to participate in social or professional situations that they would otherwise find impossible to handle. Likewise, the responsibility required to take care of an emotional support dog may help an individual with depression tackle daily life’s challenges. 

Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs

Although emotional support dogs are invaluable to their owners, it’s important to remember that emotional support dogs, like all ESAs, are not the same as service animals. 

Service animals and emotional support animals fall into the category of “assistance animals,” but their roles and training are very different. Service animals are almost always dogs. They must be trained to a high level to assist individuals with physical or mental disabilities to do things they can’t do for themselves. Service dogs specifically trained to assist individuals with mental health conditions are known as psychiatric service dogs. They are entitled to the same rights as service dogs that help people with physical disabilities. 

On the other hand, emotional support dogs, like all emotional support animals, are not required to complete training to carry out their role, nor must they be able to perform specific tasks. Any animal can become an ESA, within reason, as long as it provides emotional support to its owner. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees service animals (including psychiatric service dogs) the right to accompany their owners to public places. There is no such guarantee for emotional support dogs. However, the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) forbids discrimination in housing against people with disabilities, which includes psychiatric and emotional disabilities. Thus, since their emotional support animal is more than just a pet, ESA owners can request reasonable accommodations from their housing provider to live with an emotional support animal without paying pet fees or deposits.

Are Dogs Good for Emotional Support?

Dogs are the most prevalent emotional support animals, and for a good reason. Emotional support dogs provide a wide range of benefits for their owners. They can help to reduce anxiety and stress levels and provide companionship and support during difficult times. Research has shown that spending time with a dog can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease

Dogs are the obvious choice for emotional support animals because they provide unconditional love and friendship. They’re also great listeners (even if they don’t understand all the words) and are usually happy to cuddle up with their owner. In addition to being friendly, affectionate companions, emotional support dogs can help you connect with the world around you. Owning a dog requires you to get out of the house for walks, providing the opportunity for fresh air, exercise, and meeting new people.

What Kind of Dogs Make Good Emotional Support Dogs?

Any dog (including mixed-breed and rescue dogs) can be an excellent emotional support dog if it helps its owner overcome the challenges of living with a mental illness. However, some dog breeds are particularly well suited to this role. These six breeds are popular as emotional support dogs, especially for specific scenarios.

1. Best Emotional Support Dog Breed for a Family – Golden Retriever

  • Temperament: Gentle, loving, patient, easy to train, highly intelligent, good with children
  • Lifespan: 10 to 12 years
  • Color/Appearance: Long straight or wavy fur of various “golden” shades; relatively large

Golden Retrievers are well known for their gentle and loving nature, making them ideal emotional support dogs or service dogs. They are also highly intelligent, easy to train, and good with children. These attributes make them a perfect addition to any family. Not only are they among the most popular pets, but they are fantastic for emotional support. This dog breed is patient and tolerant of people of all ages and all personalities and will stay loyal to its owner, no matter how they feel. However, keep in mind that the Golden Retriever is a large breed that requires a fair amount of outdoor exercise to stay healthy and regular grooming to maintain its beautiful coat.

2. Best Emotional Support Dog Breed for Anxiety – Labrador Retriever

  • Temperament: Playful, loyal, energetic, wants to please its owner, enjoys getting outside and exploring
  • Lifespan: 10 to 12 years
  • Color/Appearance: Short coat of various colors (black, chocolate, yellow, white); robust build; fairly large

Labrador Retrievers are another popular emotional support dog breed. Similar in size to Golden Retrievers, they have gentle temperaments and loving dispositions. Labs are also highly intelligent and relatively easy to train – especially if you offer food as a reward! This breed loves to play and has a lot of energy, requiring regular walks or dog park trips. This can be a big help if you are looking for a breed that will force you to get out of the house. Their friendly, exuberant nature makes them excellent “icebreakers” for people who suffer from anxiety in social situations. However, owning a Lab is a significant responsibility. These large dogs require regular bathing, especially after a particularly muddy walk. Labrador Retrievers are best suited for individuals with the time, space, and inclination to devote to caring for a canine companion.

3. Best Emotional Support Dog Breed for Allergies – Poodle

  • Temperament: Adaptable, loving, energetic, highly intelligent, trainable, generally calm
  • Lifespan: 12 to 16 years
  • Color/Appearance: Curly hair, a wide range of colors and sizes (e.g., Toy, Miniature, Standard)

Many people choose poodles to become emotional support dogs or psychiatric service dogs. Not only are these dogs incredibly intelligent, but they are also eager to please and enjoy the challenge of learning. Although this is not a requirement for ESAs, they can learn to perform numerous tasks, such as helping during a panic attack or seizure, so you may decide to train them as psychiatric service dogs. Poodles are excellent family dogs and generally have a calm disposition. Although no dog is 100% hypoallergenic, poodles are arguably the best choice for individuals with allergies, as they don’t shed. However, their curly coat does require regular grooming, which can be expensive.

If you can’t decide between a Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, or poodle, you don’t have to! The Labradoodle and Goldendoodle cross breeds also make excellent ESA dogs.

4. Best Emotional Support Dog Breed for Depression – Yorkshire Terrier

  • Temperament: Energetic, playful, feisty, loyal, affectionate, forms strong bonds with its owner
  • Lifespan: 13 to 16 years
  • Color/Appearance: Usually has a black and tan coat; one of the smallest terriers; relatively fragile bone structure

Supporting an individual with depression requires a special kind of ESA dog. Yorkshire Terriers fit the bill perfectly. Yorkies form strong bonds with their owners and are happy to provide constant companionship. They don’t like being left alone, which is why many people have a pair of Yorkshire Terriers. Although they are not entirely hypoallergenic, they shed significantly less than some other breeds.

Yorkies are energetic and playful, and their antics are often quite humorous. Due to their small size, Yorkshire Terriers can happily live in an apartment, and unlike larger breeds requiring frequent walks, they can get most of their exercise indoors. They have a relatively long lifespan, at 13 to 16 years. Although they don’t mind staying home, Yorkies love going out and about, and their small size makes them very portable. This also makes them more likely to be accepted into places like restaurants or shopping malls, although having an ESA letter with you when you ask the manager for permission is always a good idea.

5. Best Dog Breed for Emotional Intelligence – Border Collie

  • Temperament: Affectionate, friendly, energetic, extremely intelligent and trainable, can empathize with its owner’s feelings, quick to respond in a crisis
  • Lifespan: 10 to 17 years
  • Color/Appearance: Medium-sized herding dog with a relatively thick coat that is usually black and white but may be other colors

Being able to empathize with how you’re feeling is an invaluable trait in an emotional support dog, and it’s an area in which Border Collies excel. In addition to being affectionate and friendly, Border Collies are regularly lauded as one of the most intelligent dog breeds, which extends to their emotional intelligence. They are remarkably good at recognizing how their owner is feeling and acting accordingly, whether that means snuggling up peacefully on the sofa, playing fetch, or accompanying them on an outing. Their intelligence also means they can help in a crisis, such as a panic attack, or guide their owner out of a stressful environment. Because of their intelligence and receptiveness to training, you might consider choosing a Border Collie as a psychiatric service dog

Border Collies are best for people with a significant amount of space, as they are used to running outside, so you may want to think twice if you live in an apartment or if you’re not prepared to take your dog for long, frequent walks.

6. Best Dog Breed for PTSD - Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

  • Temperament: Gentle, affectionate, calm, loving, easygoing, trainable
  • Lifespan: 8 to 12 years
  • Color/Appearance: Slight build; smooth, silky coat; four recognized color varieties (chestnut and white, black/white/tan, ruby, and black and tan)

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are frequently trained to become therapy dogs, and it’s easy to see why. These gentle and affectionate dogs are natural companions who are happy to be petted and fussed over by people of all ages. They are wonderful family dogs, including for special needs children, and provide a calming presence for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although Cavalier King Charles Spaniels love going for walks, they are not nearly as demanding as some larger and more energetic breeds and are happy spending most of the day on someone’s lap. Unfortunately, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is susceptible to various health problems, resulting in a shorter life expectancy than many other small dog breeds. It also requires regular grooming to keep its long coat looking its best.

What Breeds to Avoid

Deciding which emotional support dog is best for you is a personal decision that depends on factors such as your family situation, living arrangements, outdoor space, work schedule, and emotional needs. There’s likely to be a dog for every potential owner because dogs come in numerous sizes and temperaments. Before choosing an emotional support dog, think carefully about what you’re looking for and what kind of dog you will best be able to care for. 

You don’t need to rule out any breeds automatically, but some breeds are known for being more independent or demanding than others, so they may not feel like constantly cuddling or spending time with their owner. And, of course, if you’re having second thoughts about owning a dog, consider an emotional support cat instead!

1. Chow Chow

The Chow Chow is not the most obvious choice for an emotional support animal, although some Chow Chow owners would undoubtedly disagree. On the whole, the Chow Chow tends to have an independent personality that isn’t always compatible with providing emotional support when its owner needs it. Although they are incredibly fluffy, the Chow Chow isn’t a very “cuddly” breed and is not particularly easy to train.

2. Airedale Terrier

Many Airedale owners love their dogs dearly, but unfortunately, this medium-large terrier breed isn’t the most suitable for providing emotional support. Airedales can be stubborn and tricky to train. This dog breed demands attention and exercise and will be vocal if its needs aren’t met. Unless you are up to the challenge, adopting an Airedale could mean more stress rather than a calming, soothing presence.

3. Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Cattle Dogs are incredibly hard-working animals, but the job at which they excel usually doesn’t involve providing comfort and affection. Instead, they are better suited to being watchdogs or herding dogs. They require significant exercise and room to run and are constantly in “alert” mode. They can be stubborn and don’t tend to enjoy sitting quietly or going for a gentle walk at a sedate pace.

How to Make Your Dog an Official Emotional Support Animal

ESA owners should know that there is no need to register their dog as an emotional support animal. However, obtaining a legitimate emotional support animal letter is a good idea to ensure that you have the right to live with your ESA dog, even in rented accommodation that typically has a no-pets policy or charges pet fees. 

Getting an official ESA letter is a straightforward process that you can complete online using Pettable’s secure telehealth platform.

Complete Our Assessment

The first step in the approval process is to complete a short online assessment. This will help us understand your mental health and emotional support needs. You may need an ESA letter for travel, housing, or both.

Consult With a Therapist

Completing our privacy and consent forms allows our therapists to work with you. We’ll use your assessment to match you with an experienced licensed mental health professional. Next, we’ll help you set up a live consultation with your therapist so they can evaluate your mental health symptoms and assess your need for an emotional support animal. 

Get an Emotional Support Animal or Psychiatric Service Dog Letter

If the mental health practitioner decides that an ESA is integral to your mental health treatment and overall wellness, they’ll write an official emotional support animal letter. Alternatively, you can get a psychiatric service dog letter if you plan to train your dog as a PSD. If you need the document immediately, we can arrange for you to receive it within 24 hours of your consultation (except for California residents). 

We want you to be completely satisfied with your Pettable experience. We will provide a full refund of our fees if your ESA letter does not meet your needs. 

Do you qualify for an ESA letter? Take our quiz!

Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Support Dogs

If you’re considering adding an ESA dog to your family, it’s natural to have questions! Here are some frequently asked questions about emotional support dog breeds.

What rights do ESA dogs have?

Unlike service animals, which can accompany their owners anywhere, ESA dogs must have permission before entering establishments like restaurants or shops. However, the Fair Housing Act protects your right to live with your emotional support dog if you have a valid ESA letter.

What are the best emotional support dog breeds for kids?

Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Standard Poodles, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are known for their friendly and affectionate natures, including around children of all ages and personalities. However, the relationship will depend on the specific dog and child.

Can emotional support dogs reduce anxiety?

Reducing anxiety is one of the most common reasons why people seek out an emotional support dog. Your ESA’s companionship can provide significant stress relief and may help you cope with anxiety-inducing situations.

Are emotional support dogs easy to train?

By definition, emotional support dogs do not need specific training for their role as long as they provide comfort to their owner. However, certain dog breeds (e.g., Golden Retrievers and Standard Poodles) are easier to train than others. 

Can rescue dogs be emotional support dogs?

Absolutely. Any dog that bonds closely with its owner can be an emotional support animal. Rescue dogs are often incredibly affectionate and loyal, but carefully consider the dog’s history and needs, as it may have challenges to overcome.

Do I have to certify my emotional support dog?

There is no need to certify or register an emotional support dog. However, getting an official ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional can help ensure that you can live with your ESA, even in “no pets” housing.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.