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Emotional Support Dogs For Anxiety: A Complete Guide

Do you suffer from anxiety and are contemplating getting your own emotional support dog? This is the perfect guide for you. Read on for more information on emotional support dogs for those with anxiety.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Doug Reffue - CEO & Founder of Pettable
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

What Laws Protect My Emotional Support Dog?

Whether they’re dogs, cats, birds, or other animals, emotional support animals are only mentioned under two federal laws: the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). However, service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, are completely covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means they can travel anywhere with their owner, even in public places that don’t typically allow pets, and owners are entitled to reasonable accommodation.

Housing

The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects residents in any U.S. state who have an emotional support dog as long as they have a valid ESA letter signed by a licensed mental health professional. The act prevents landlords or housing providers from discriminating against anyone with a disability and ensures that individuals with an emotional support animal have equal access to housing. However, if your emotional support dog appears aggressive or disruptive, landlords have the right to evict you.

Transportation & Air Travel

Since emotional support dogs are not protected under federal law like service dogs, they can be refused entry on public transportation such as buses or trains. However, many transportation services allow small pets, so depending on your animal's size and the service's policies, you should be fine on most forms of public transport.

When it comes to air travel, emotional support animals are also not allowed. With the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), emotional support animals were once permitted to fly in the cabin of airplanes. However, as of 2021, the ACAA has been modified so that only service animals are offered protection when flying since emotional support animals are now considered pets.

Employment

While employment is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, only service animals are protected under this law.

If you have an emotional support animal letter signed by a licensed mental health professional and believe you need their presence in the workplace, you could still make a case with your employer. While this decision is up to the discretion of your workplace, they may be accommodating to your requests. However, if your employer strictly decides against having an emotional support animal in the workplace, there isn't anything you can legally do to combat their choice.

Public Access

In most states, emotional support animals are not allowed to accompany their owners in public areas that are otherwise off-limits to pets. Only service animals have complete access. Both federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law specify that a person with a disability can use a service animal in establishments such as restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses. However, the laws do not protect using an emotional support animal in public places.

It's also worth mentioning that it is a crime to identify your emotional support dog as a service animal falsely. If caught doing so, you could receive a sizable fine starting at $500.

What Are the Best Anxiety-Friendly Dog Breeds?

While anyone could bond with any breed of dog, there are a few specific breeds that are better suited for reducing and managing anxiety than others. Some of the best anxiety-friendly dog breeds to have as emotional support animals or service animals are:

  • Labrador
  • Golden retriever
  • Maltese poodle
  • Havanese
  • Yorkshire terrier
  • Mixed breeds

When looking for the right emotional support dog for you, it’s also worth looking for a dog that has the right personality traits as well that can best help soothe your anxiety. The best service dogs for anxiety are:

  • Friendly
  • Outgoing
  • Calm
  • Affectionate
  • Confident
  • Loving
  • Loyal

How Much Does It Cost To Own a Service Dog?

If you’re interested in getting a service dog, you can either purchase an already-trained dog or train one yourself. Purchasing a trained service dog can be costly, though. The National Service Animal Registry says that the average cost of a service dog is around $15,000 to $30,000 upfront. Some can even cost more than $50,000. That amount might vary depending on their capabilities. 

Alternatively, if you wish to train the dog yourself, Pettable offers a cost-effective online psychiatric service dog training program that will teach you how to train your pet to become a PSD. The video-based course is led by a certified PSD trainer and designed to be completed at your own pace while available at a base price of $199. Additionally, if you are unsatisfied with the program within the first 7 days of purchase, Pettable will fully refund your purchase.

How To Train a Service Dog For Anxiety

Training a pet to become a service dog that can help with your anxiety is possible via two methods: in-person PSD training and online PSD training. While in-person PSD training is the easier option, it can often be costly and your pet may not respond well to the pacing or the news environment. For these reasons, many people opt to train their service dogs themselves.

The first step is to start socializing your dog and teaching it basic commands, as you would with any dog. Starting early and practicing commands often will help. As you move into specialized training, consider how a PSD can help you with your anxiety. Which tasks can it perform? You can make a list and use this to determine your best course of action for training.

At this point, it is likely your best option to enroll your pet in an online PSD training program where you can learn effective techniques for teaching your dog news skills. Choose a program that starts with one or two simple tasks and have your dog practice them. Eventually, you will be able to ramp up your dog’s learning and teach it skills like retrieving your medication or cell phone, performing deep pressure therapy, or cuddling you when you’re feeling an anxiety episode.

When the dog performs the task correctly, you can give positive reinforcement, such as petting your dog and giving them a treat.

Pettable offers an online psychiatric service dog training program that allows you to provide your dog with the obedience and skills-based training it needs to effectively support your mental health needs. The course is entirely self-paced, guided by an expert PSD trainer and can be completed on any training timeline. If you are interested in trying the training program, start by taking our online quiz.

It’s best to be patient, both with yourself and the dog, as training can take a while. However, all of the hard work and effort will be worth it when your trained companion is there to help you in potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations.

Meet the author:
Doug Reffue - CEO & Founder of Pettable

Growing up in upstate New York with a dog named Boo and a cat named Ziti, Doug has been a lifelong animal lover. He currently lives in Massachusetts with his wife, two children and his dog Layla.  

Doug was an early employee at Embark Veterinary where he led the sales and marketing efforts for the world’s premier Dog DNA test. He has held executive positions at a variety of companies within several industries including professional sports, skincare and home fragrance.