How To Make Your Dog An Emotional Support Dog

Doug Reffue
CEO & Founder
September 27, 2023
25 minutes
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
Doug Reffue
CEO & Founder
25 minutes
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
The laws surrounding emotional support animals can vary, depending on where you live. Read on for a full guide on how to make your dog an ESA.

For many individuals who struggle with emotional and mental health disabilities, there is relief in having an emotional support dog. These animals provide emotional support for individuals with emotional and mental health issues through their mere presence. Emotional support animals (ESAs) are most commonly cats or dogs. However, any domesticated animal can be an emotional support animal, including:

Some emotional support animals can even be exotic animals, such as:

  • Peacocks
  • Lizards
  • Bearded Dragons

For some individuals, getting an ESA can be a long and tiring process. Between looking at shelters, finding the perfect assistance animal, paying for food, board, care, and possibly even adoption fees, the process can be frustrating. However, this arduous process may not be necessary for dog owners who already have a constant companion. You can make your current furry friend your emotional support animal with a few easy steps.

How to Make Your Pet an Emotional Support Animal

To make your pet an emotional support animal, you'll need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. This letter should state your mental health condition and how your pet helps alleviate symptoms.

The Bottom Line:

How Does Your Dog Become an Emotional Support Dog? – You must have an emotional support animal letter prescribed by a licensed mental health professional.

How Do I Know If I Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog? – An ESA must be able to alleviate at least one symptom of your mental or emotional disorder.

What's the Difference Between an Emotional Support Dog and a Service Dog? – Service dogs must receive specific training, while emotional support dogs provide support and companionship through their mere presence. Service dogs also receive more public access and travel rights.

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog? – A PSD is trained to do work or perform tasks that assist with its owner's specific mental health disorder.

A dog is more than just a furry friend – they’re an integral part of many people's mental health support system. If you have a mental illness, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, your dog may provide a comforting presence that helps you cope with your symptoms. Emotional support dogs offer more than just physical support for their owners. Assistance animals are capable of assisting individuals who struggle with a mental illness, mental disability, or varying types of mental health issues.

If you already rely on your dog for emotional support and comfort, you may be able to get them certified as an ESA. This official status can make it easier for you to keep your dog with you when you travel or move to a new home.

What Is an Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support dog is more than just a pet — they provide support and comfort to individuals dealing with mental and emotional struggles. An emotional support dog doesn’t need training in specific tasks like a psychiatric service dog (PSD) requires. However, an ESA, whether canine or any other animal, doesn’t have the same federal protections as a PSD, so it usually can’t accompany its owner in public accommodations, including restaurants, shopping centers, and medical facilities. Emotional support animals are only protected under the Fair Housing Act, which allows them to live in their owners primary residence regardless of any restrictions on pets.

Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Dog?

To qualify for an ESA, you must have a psychological condition or mental illness (diagnosed by a licensed professional) for which your animal provides support and comfort.

Some mental disorders that can benefit from an ESA include anxiety, stress, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, depression, and PTSD. While any animal can qualify to be an ESA, dogs and cats are the most common species of assistance animals.

woman with a dog on balcony

How Do Emotional Support Dogs Help Your Mental Health & Well-Being?

The therapeutic benefits dogs can have on humans have been heavily researched, and the impacts they can have on mental health, well-being, and longevity are dramatic. At least 74% of pet owners report mental health improvements due to interactions with their animals, and studies have shown that assistance animal companionship can effectively treat mental disorders like PTSD.

The impact pets can have does not just stop at improving people’s mental health and well-being — dogs can also help you live longer. In a study published in the journal Circulation in 2019, researchers reviewed data between 1950 and 2019 to determine the impact of dogs on longevity. They found that people who owned dogs lived longer than those without a dog. Additionally, they found that people at risk of having a heart attack and owning a dog had a 65% reduced mortality risk.

man hugging emotional support dog

What are the Benefits of Having an Emotional Support Dog?

Getting your dog certified as an emotional support pet comes with several benefits resulting from special permissions and accommodations granted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These let you:

Live with Your Pet in Rental Housing

With an ESA letter for housing, your emotional support dog can live with you in your rented residence, even if the community has restrictions on pets, breeds, size, or other “no-pet” policies. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) upholds the rules and regulations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to make sure that landlords and housing managers don’t discriminate against individuals living with mental disorders — and their support animals. Unless your dog poses a threat to other residents or the property, you can live side-by-side with your beloved companion.

Waive Pet Fees

You also have the right to ask for any pet fees to be waived from your apartment or housing units if you have an official ESA. Landlords and housing communities will try to charge you for your fees for your ESA as if it is simply a pet. Federal law prohibits them from charging fees for certified emotional support animals, including:

  • Monthly pet fees
  • Pet insurance deposits
  • Pet surcharges

Did You Know?

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are exempt from pet rent, deposits, and fees with a valid ESA letter. Find out more

Traveling On Airlines With Your ESA

Emotional support dogs and cats used to fly freely on any US airline until a recent change by the Department of Transportation in March 2021. Now, it is a case-by-case basis determined by each airline, with most declining to allow ESAs in the cabin. We recommend calling your airline in advance to ask if they accept ESAs — but temper your expectations. 

Airlines still accepting an emotional support dog or cat include:

  • LATAM Airlines
  • Aeroméxico
  • Volaris
  • Other international carriers

If you are interested in flying with your canine companion, we recommend acquiring or training a psychiatric service dog (PSD). These service animals require specialized training and are protected for travel under the ADA. You can also train your own pet to become a psychiatric service dog through online psychiatric service dog training programs like what is offered by Pettable.

Accompany You in Public Places

While ESAs are not federally protected in public settings like restaurants or supermarkets, they are generally more welcome in our experience, given the nature of the support they provide. Talk with the manager or supervisor of the public accommodation to see if they allow ESAs — some businesses and organizations welcome ESAs despite the lack of legal protection.

How Can My Dog Become an Emotional Support Dog?

Most states recognize the need for emotional support animals for those with emotional and mental disabilities. However, some state and local government agencies have enacted their own laws regarding ESAs, so inquire about your locality’s specific rules. To make your dog an emotional support animal, just contact the friendly professionals at Pettable. Our company offers a risk-free guarantee that we will refund your entire payment with reasonable accommodation if your ESA Letter doesn't work properly. Just follow these easy steps:

Take the pre-qualification quiz

To get started, take our simple pre-qualification quiz. With this, our team can determine your eligibility for an ESA and guide you forward in the certification process.

Get Evaluated by a Licensed Mental Health Professional

After taking the quiz, you will be able to schedule a telehealth appointment with a Pettable licensed mental health professional (LMHP). One of our professionals will meet with you virtually to diagnose your mental or emotional disorder and consult with you on what type of ESA will work best for your needs and lifestyle. Once completed, they will write your official ESA letter.

Receive Your ESA Letter

Once you’ve completed the process, you should receive your letter within 24 hours of the consultation (excluding California residents). With this document, you’ll have an easier time bringing your emotional support dog along with you in your residence and some other public places.

Where can an ESA Dog Go?

With an official ESA letter, your ESA can live with you in a rental property and possibly accompany you in other settings. But an ESA letter does not guarantee that you can bring your dog to work or in other public spaces, regardless of what mental issues the dog may help you relieve. However, you have the right to request consideration from your employer, who can allow your ESA on a case-by-case basis. If the animal is not a nuisance in the office, the company might honor your ESA letter; if your coworkers are uncomfortable with your ESA, your employer can deny your request with no legal ramifications.

woman hugging emotional support dog

How Do I Know If I Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog?

Emotional support animals comfort owners with specific mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, phobias (i.e., aerophobia, fear of flying), depression, and more. Suppose the applicant has evidence of experiencing mental health issues. In that case, they should be able to qualify for an ESA letter, which is the first step to having a verified emotional support animal. 

When living alone and experiencing mental issues, having an ESA gives you a reason to go for walks and spend time outdoors. These activities help to maintain a positive mental state and grow the bond between you and your companion.

If you are unsure whether you qualify, you should start by contacting a licensed mental health professional. Not sure who to contact? We can connect you with a LMHP.

Get Evaluated by a Licensed Mental Health Professional

If you think an ESA can help alleviate your mental and emotional health challenges, contact a licensed mental health professional (LMHP), such as a counselor, psychiatrist, or therapist. Any one of these LMHPs can diagnose you with a disorder that qualifies you for an ESA or PSD. Qualifying mental and emotional health conditions that qualify include: 

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Attacks
  • Personality Disorders
  • Phobias
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance Use Disorder

The LMHP Determines Your Needs

Next, your dog needs to in some way alleviate symptoms of your mental or emotional health disability. This can include helping you get outside, which relaxes you and eases your anxiety, or gets you through depressive symptoms by getting you to focus on something else other than your thought patterns.

After centuries of companionship, dogs have developed the skills and demeanor to enhance their handlers’ lives in many ways, and the impact they have on mental well-being is remarkable. Most pet owners and dog lovers will testify that their animals are invaluable to their everyday lives, so your LMHP can help determine how an emotional support dog can help you live a happier, easier, and more fulfilled life.

Get Your ESA Letter

For a mental health professional to determine whether or not you meet the above two criteria, you need to have a live consultation either via phone, video call, or in person. Once you’ve completed these steps and received your diagnosis, the LMHP will write your official ESA letter, which you should be able to access within 24-48 hours.

woman with emotional support dog

What Laws Protect Emotional Support Dogs?

Emotional support animals don’t have the same guarantees as physical or psychiatric service dogs, but there are still some protections for them.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) states that a landlord is not allowed to discriminate against a tenant based on their need for an emotional support dog or a service dog.

In practice, this means that an official ESA letter gives these individuals the right to have their emotional support animal live with them in most rental properties, including places that generally prohibit pets. The FHA also prohibits landlords from charging a pet fee or pet deposit for emotional support animals, service animals, or psychiatric service dogs.

Let’s say you have an emotional support dog and want to move into an apartment with a “no pets” policy or a restriction against a specific dog breed. As long as you have an official ESA letter, your landlord must allow your support dog to live with you.

Emotional support dogs are also not usually subject to weight or breed restrictions, which include larger dogs like retrievers, shepherds, and mastiffs. Once you have requested reasonable accommodations and submitted your emotional animal support letter to your landlord, they are not allowed to ask for more details about your condition or request additional documentation. They can only deny your request if the animal poses a serious threat to other tenants, causes property damage, or would cause undue financial burden.

The Air Carrier Access Act

There are some ESA rights related to travel, but these changed significantly in 2021. Before then, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) required air carriers to allow ESAs under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The ACAA prohibits air carriers from discriminating against passengers with disabilities and requires them to accommodate disabled passengers’ needs. 

However, the DOT amended the Air Carrier Access Act in January 2021, and the law no longer protects ESAs. Trained service animals are still protected under the ACAA, but emotional support animals are not. 

Some domestic and international airlines have chosen to continue allowing ESAs. Other carriers have changed their policies to allow only certain types of ESAs, such as small dogs. Unfortunately, many airlines have discontinued their ESA programs entirely.

Before you fly, it’s essential to check with your airline to see if you can keep your ESA with you in the cabin. If not, it will probably be able to fly as a pet, which means it must be in a carrier in the cargo compartment.

What’s the Difference Between An Emotional Support Dog vs Service Dog?

Emotional support animals and service animals are very different from each other. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks, such as fetching medication, turning lights on and off, applying deep-pressure therapy (DPT), or responding during seizures — and much more.

On the other hand, ESAs are not individually trained for specific tasks, but they help relieve symptoms of emotional or mental disorders with their comfort and companionship.

Another key difference is that ESAs are not limited to dogs — many different domesticated animals can be classified as emotional support animals, including:

Physical and psychiatric support animals are almost always of the canine kind, but miniature horses may also be included.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an ESA letter?

An ESA letter is the official document signed by a licensed mental health professional that certifies your need for the animal. It’s similar to a prescription from a medical doctor — it recommends a legal treatment for a specific condition. In this case, the “treatment” is the animal itself. This letter certifies the pup as your emotional support companion.

What Makes an ESA letter Legitimate?

You need to keep in mind a few key criteria to ensure that your emotional support animal letter meets the criteria laid out by federal law.

Once you have been diagnosed with a mental or emotional disorder by a licensed mental health professional, they will write your official ESA letter, which must include:

  • The professional’s license information 
  • Business & contact info
  • Official letterhead

How Do I Get An ESA Letter?

At Pettable, we make getting an ESA letter easy and stress-free by offering:

  • World-Class Licensed Mental Health Professionals: Our friendly pros are paid per consultation regardless of the outcome, so you are guaranteed legitimate, unbiased healthcare.
  • Legitimacy & Transparency: We are the only ESA provider offering transparency about their team and founders.
  • Premium Customer Service: Our 24/7 customer service professionals and trustworthy legal team are ready to support you whenever you need it.
  • Unparalleled Flexibility: Our express service can guarantee delivery within 24 hours (except for residents of California under law AB 468), keeping your family together in an emergency and helping you get your dog certified as an emotional support animal quickly.

How Do I Know My ESA Letter Will Work?

At Pettable, we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. We believe in our service, and we want to make sure that if you get approved for an emotional support dog or cat, it works for your specific needs. If your legitimate ESA letter is denied by a housing provider, our money-back guarantee has you covered.

What Is A Psychiatric Service Dog?

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a canine companion trained to perform specific tasks related to your mental or emotional condition. To get a PSD you must have a diagnosed psychological disorder that requires assistance that can be provided by a professionally trained dog. A PSD is allowed to accompany you in most public accommodations, such as restaurants, stores, medical facilities, and hotels.

Can I Bring an ESA to College?

Yes, if you have an official ESA letter, your support dog (or other animal) can accompany you into university housing and on campus. You should speak to your instructors before bringing your ESA to class to make sure there are no conflicts with other students.

Do I Need to Register My ESA?

No, you never need to register an emotional support animal, and any service that asserts otherwise is fraudulent. If you encounter a service that recommends registration, consider other options and avoid “registering” your ESA. An ESA letter is the only legitimate way to get an emotional support animal.

Does My ESA Need to Wear a Vest?

No, your ESA (or service dog) is not required to wear a vest, but for transparency’s sake, sometimes it’s recommended. It can prevent confusion in public and let authorities and management know that your animal is more than just a pet.

Can You Have More Than One ESA?

Yes. There are no restrictions limiting the number of ESAs an individual may have, as long as they don’t violate any state or local laws. Also, your LMHP should agree that you need more than one support animal before writing additional ESA letters.

What Do Emotional Support Dogs Do?

Emotional support dogs provide companionship to the owner that helps ease a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or phobias.  While service dogs help their owners perform tasks that involve physical elements, an emotional support pet helps its owner cope with any mental illnesses they may live with.

Where Can I Get an Emotional Support Dog?

If you already own a dog, it can become your emotional support animal once you receive your ESA letter. However, if you’re ESA-approved and still don’t own a dog, you can adopt a puppy or dog from an individual owner or an animal shelter. Your new furry friend doesn’t need any specific training, they should just fit your needs and lifestyle.

What Are the Requirements for an Emotional Support Dog?

To have an emotional support dog, you must first be approved by an LMHP, certifying that you have a mental health disability that is improved by the presence of your support animal. Your dog does not need to be registered, as there is no official registry. But you will need an ESA letter for them to become an official emotional support dog.

There are no breed or size requirements for an emotional support dog. Your pet must be well-behaved around others, under your control at all times, and must not pose any threat to the health and safety of others. Also, though not required, it’s a good idea to get them spayed or neutered to prevent the arrival of an unexpected puppy litter, as well as any aggressive behaviors related to mating.

How Do I Train an Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support dog requires no specific training, legally. They do, however, need to be housebroken, under your control in public (preferably with a leash), and up to date on their vaccines. For the benefit of both you and your pooch, consider getting behavioral dog training from Pettable.

woman with a dog on sofa

Can I Take My Emotional Support Dog on Flights?

Emotional support dogs were previously allowed on any flight with any airline. Recently, however, this has changed. Airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals – only service animals. 

Some companies have still kept their ESA programs in place. Be sure to check with airlines before choosing your flight to find out if they will accommodate your furry companion. 

Are Emotional Support Dogs Allowed Anywhere?

While a service dog can generally go anywhere in public, an emotional support dog cannot. Emotional support animals are required by law to be allowed in any residence, regardless of whether that place typically allows pets or not. But only some airlines allow ESAs. Local government agencies cannot require airlines or other places to allow ESAs.

Other public places, such as restaurants and stores, have no obligation to allow your ESA to enter. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and some places may accommodate emotional support animals if you simply show your ESA letter. An emotional support dog does not receive the same benefits as a service dog, either. Service dogs can fly with their owners while emotional support pets may not, depending on the airline.

Can a Landlord Refuse an Emotional Support Dog?

Essentially, an emotional support dog is legally protected in all places of residence. The only circumstances that allow a landlord to refuse an emotional support animal are if accommodations for the ESA would be unreasonable (such as a large dog breed that there is simply no room for in a small apartment), or if the dog poses a threat to the health or safety of others. 

Can any Dog be an Emotional Support Dog?

Any size or breed of dog with general good behavior has the potential to become an emotional support dog. Certain breeds have characteristics that can help a person stay calm and experience feelings of stress relief. Some dogs offer comfort and love while other dogs may cause stress with loud barks or excitable behavior.  To make it official, you must receive an ESA letter from a licensed therapist certifying that you have a mental health condition that is improved by the presence of your pet. 

What Airlines Allow Emotional Support Dogs?

Few airlines recognize emotional support dogs and allow them on their flights free of charge, such as Latam Airlines, Aeromexico, and Volaris. On most airlines your ESA will only be recognized as a pet, and will be subject to that airlines pet policy.

Can Emotional Support Sogs Go On Cruises?

While a select few cruise lines may allow for pets on board, most will not accommodate any animals – not even ESAs – except service dogs. 

Can Hotels Refuse Emotional Support Dogs?

As there is no law protecting an ESA’s right to public access, hotels are not required to allow emotional support dogs. However, it may be worth asking the hotel before you book if they will accommodate your support animal. You can have a copy of your valid ESA letter on hand in case they want a copy, but there's no guarantee they'll offer reasonable accommodation for ESAs. Otherwise, seek out a pet-friendly hotel to stay at, instead. 

Can I Take My Emotional Support Dog to Walmart?

Only service animals are allowed inside Walmart – no pets or ESAs can enter. 

Can a Pitbull Be an Emotional Support Dog?

Yes, Pitbulls can make excellent emotional support dogs. Though some legislation is restrictive of certain breeds deemed aggressive or vicious (and Pitbulls are one of these), this does not take into account that some Pitbulls can be extremely gentle and loyal, depending on their natural temperament and the environment in which they were raised. Nor does it prohibit a Pitbull from becoming an ESA.

Are Shih Tzus Good Emotional Support Dogs? 

Yes! Shih Tzus tend to be affectionate and loyal, making them a wonderful breed for emotional support.

Can an Australian Shepherd be an Emotional Support Dog?

Yes! Australian Shepherds are obedient, protective, and good-natured, and can make a wonderful companion as an ESA.

Can Animals Besides Dogs Offer Emotional Support?

While dogs have traits that make them excellent support pets, other animals can also be support animals. An ideal companion animal is one that offers comfort and love to its owner without causing extra stress in a person’s life. It’s best to avoid animals that can cause extra stress like a very large animal or an exotic animal. Support animals don't need to be individually trained as long as they are generally well-behaved.

Meet the author:
Doug Reffue
CEO & Founder

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.