Research suggests a great advantage from the best emotional support dogs used in animal-assisted therapy for mental health. The benefits of having a pet can do much more than simply provide companionship. Emotional support animals, also called ESAs can help improve daily living for some individuals. Based on surveys conducted by people who have had experience with these specific types of animals nearly 100% reported feeling happier with less feelings of stress and increased sense of security when around them. In this article we’ll explore the specifics on the topic of : What are the best emotional support dogs? Which breeds are well-suited to helping humans on an emotional level?
The Science of Emotional Connection
Have you ever sat through a presentation from your child explaining why they need a dog? It turns out they may be on to something. Science shows some positive ways that animals can impact our health physically and mentally! If you need a little more persuasion into getting an animal here are some things to consider:
- Owning a pet can help you relax by reducing tension
- A pet can provide comfort
- Having a pet offers companionship to reduce loneliness
- Simply petting an animal can aid in lowering blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health
Studies have revealed an automatic relaxation response is naturally released simply from petting an animal. This act promotes the release of key hormones responsible for boosting your mood including serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin.
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Dogs, in particular, have served people in a variety of ways. Emotional support dogs have been used to assist in certain therapies with patients who suffer from chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Mental stimulation increased from the presence of the dogs and encouraged memory recall. Additionally, the use of animals in therapy with patients who experienced head trauma helped in assisting with sequencing temporal events.
The reactions of people with certain mental health issues to the use of animals as an element in therapy also showed some promising results. In people who are anxious, for instance, bringing in an emotional support animal helps to slow down their breathing and provides a positive distraction.
For children with autism the support of animal-assisted therapy offers a more positive outcome than in standard therapy sessions without the use of animals. This is likely due in part to children with autism having a deeper connection to animals than with humans. In therapy sessions where ESAs were used there was a higher engagement reported in social interaction and language based on publications from UCLA Health.
What Are the Best Emotional Support Dogs?
Emotional support dogs come in all shapes and sizes. There are certain breeds in dogs that have the right traits for the job of an ESA. A valued trait for any ESA or service dog is intelligence. Although ESAs do not require formal training, having an intelligent and obedient temperament is preferred. The best emotional support dogs are those that are gentle natured and sociable. Dogs that easily bond with humans and are easy to train have an ideal trait as working dogs for use in therapies. The following breeds are the most popular and best suited for providing emotional support and therapeutic service to their handlers.
This breed is one of the most popular breeds in the U.S. Golden retrievers possess the optimal qualities that make them suitable for emotional support as well as family pets. They have a patient and overly friendly disposition. They are highly trainable, providing a suitable choice as service dogs to people with health issues.
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This breed typically has a very happy and energetic nature. Labs also have the most gentle demeanor, love to please their owners, and are quite intelligent. They are easily food-motivated providing the ideal trait to be trained. This breed is very popular as service dogs, for use in therapy and as ESAs. They provide great companions for people with emotional needs.
American Staffordshire Terrier
Commonly referred to as pit-bull type dogs this breed gets a bad rap that isn’t well-deserved. Their reputation is largely due to bad PR as well as bad owners. These canines are actually very friendly and devoted dogs. They exhibit the ideal qualities for providing emotional support with the right socialization and proper training. This breed is well suited to assist their humans in a variety of situations.
These dogs are a very versatile breed serving as much more than great pets. German shepherds have commonly been used as working dogs in a variety of fields. They are eager to please and prefer having a job to do. They are a very intelligent breed that are easy to train. Their desire to engage with humans provides a great trait for those in need of emotional support.
This breed possesses a very affectionate demeanor with humans and are ideal pets for people of all ages. They are also highly intelligent providing the right quality for training. Corgis may not be the most suitable emotional support animal for everyone due to their very active nature. They may be ideal with people who frequently go out and about to have with them in public places where their energy can be guided.
These dogs are very in tune to the emotions of their owners. They are great ESAs because they can sense your mood and exhibit cute mannerisms to lift you up when you’re feeling down. These are also great breeds with children. They may not be ideal for people who like to travel or fly with their ESAs. Pugs are a short-nosed breed and are more prone to breathing problems. For this reason some airlines do not allow this breed on flights.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
These dogs have a very affectionate nature and love to cuddle. They are very friendly, quiet and commonly referred to as ‘comfort spaniels’ for their gentle and nurturing temperament. They enjoy going out on walks but they are also low-energy dogs that are just as happy to cozy up with their owners.
Collies have a longstanding history as herding dogs and frequently check to ensure the security of their flock. They do well with people who have emotional needs with a keen sense of picking up on cues that something is off with their humans. This breed does require a great deal of exercise, but this trait may also help motivate their humans to get out more often.
This may come as a shocker for chihuahuas to make the list due to their varied temperament but this breed actually has a very loving personality. They love engaging with their owners and are content with snuggling as well as playtime. With proper training and early socialization this breed can offer the emotional support their humans need. They travel well providing suitable companions for people on the go and they do not require a great deal of energy.
These tiny terriers have big personalities with much to give to their owners due to a highly affectionate nature. They are great travel companions and easily adapt to change. This breed loves attention from their owners but they also give it back providing ideal companionship as a comfort and emotional support animal. They do not require a lot of exercise or space making them ideal with people who live in apartments and people who are not physically active.
Why Dogs for Emotional Support?
While there are similar benefits that can be seen in a variety of ESAs, the use of dogs can be traced back to early human history. Data conducted through archaeology suggests that humans have shared a common evolutionary vocation to dogs for more than 140,000 years. The evolutionary findings also suggest that canines have had a long standing history of shared semiotic action where dogs were taking care of human social conduct in a craftily synergistic, equal way.
Dogs have also held their standing in assistance through the U.S. military. Soldiers returning from war have commonly expressed how military working dogs as well as those that were not met by military guidelines, equally provided a service to them. They related a strong sense of security, stability, and safety in war with their canines amidst the chaos and panic.
Emotional Support Animal vs Service Animal?
Service animals and emotional support animals offer support in high-stress situations. There are some distinct qualities that set them apart, however. A service animal is defined as a dog that is specifically trained to perform tasks which assist disabled individuals. They accommodate various disabilities such as those with physical, mental, intellectual, psychiatric, or sensory disorders. They must meet the criteria outlined by the American Disabilities Act to be deemed a service animal.
Service dogs undergo special training to perform specific tasks that help meet the needs of different disabilities. They may be trained for one specific purpose or multiple purposes to assist their owners. For people with hearing loss, service dogs are trained to alert their owner of sounds. For vision impaired individuals, service dogs are trained to assist with navigation. In individuals with mobility disabilities they can be trained to assist in balance and provide physical support. They are trained in assisting people with psychiatric or neurological disorders by deferring destructive behaviors or avoiding impulsive behavior. They can also be trained to remind people to take medication or assist an individual who is having a seizure.
Service dogs are permitted to go wherever the person is allowed following public accommodation for people with disabilities. Identification vests or certification is not required. A common misconception concerning the acceptance of these animals in public places such as restaurants is that they must have a vest or some form of documentation stating proof of certification as a service animal. This is false. The ADA states that all businesses must allow service dogs and restricts the questions they can ask regarding the individual’s disability or needs. They may ask if the animal is required to accommodate the individual with a disability but they can not require proof or documentation to allow entry into their establishment.
Comfort and therapy animals are often used in clinical institutions to provide healing for physical, emotional, social, or cognitive functioning. These types of animals undergo extensive training to provide comfort and calming distraction in different types of people and may work during active crises. They are not trained to perform specific tasks as service dogs.
Emotional support animals are any animal that provides comfort and reduces symptoms from emotional issues in their owners without receiving any special training. These include but are not limited to: anxiety, stress, panic attacks, social phobias, and depression. ESAs are not limited to just dogs unlike service dogs. The federal Fair Housing Act protects owners of ESAs by permitting them in housing where there is a no pet policy, with registration of the animal.
Emotional Support Dog Requirements?
Animals that serve as emotional support are not defined as pets. They have protective rights which allow their owners to take them in places where pets are not typically allowed. They also have air rights to travel with their owners as outlined by the ADA. In order to utilize these rights, however, the animal must be registered as an emotional support animal.
ESAs are not service animals in that they are not trained to perform specific tasks that help or enable their humans. Instead they stand as emotional support by providing companionship and affection. For an animal to be deemed registered as an emotional support animal they must obtain a legitimate letter from a mental health professional. The letter must be written and signed by a qualified healthcare provider with their license number provided. It must present the need of the animal for providing emotional support.
Online registration services are also available to obtain registration for your animal. To use these services generally comes at a cost, however. You will also have to undergo a mental health evaluation by a mental health physician provided through the service.
Other Types of Emotional Support Animals
Dogs and cats are the most common ESAs but nearly any animal may be considered for providing emotional support. As long as they are deemed acceptable by a licensed healthcare professional for coping with your emotional conditions they qualify as ESA.
Besides dogs, cats are the next most common type of ESA. Researchers believe simply petting a cat can lead to health benefits such as lowering cholesterol. Cats are more independent than dogs and do not require as much attention but they make excellent companions.
These creatures are becoming more and more popular as family pets due to their lovable demeanor. Ferrets are very energetic and love going on walks. They can easily be harnessed and are even comparable to mini dogs in their nature. They are small and can easily travel to accompany their owners on flights.
These soft and furry creatures are very gentle in nature and form strong bonds to their owners. Having a rabbit as an ESA can provide a rewarding companion as they will often repay the love that is given to them. Rabbits are easy to maintain and can even be trained. Their quiet and gentle nature offers a comforting ESA for people who struggle with anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
These may not be typical pets you imagine cuddling up to, but many people have found snakes to provide great ESAs. Snakes are hypoallergenic, making them suitable alternatives for people with allergies to pet hair. Their calm and quiet temperament can provide a soothing presence that is ideal for people with emotional needs. They may not be suitable for people who need their ESA in public, however. Some flights have restrictions on reptiles and may require a special carrier box for transport.
Horses can prove to be great ESAs for people with emotional disorders under certain circumstances. Miniature horses and ponies have even been allowed on commercial flights as registered ESA according to changes made by the Americans with Disabilities Act. For these purposes horses must be trained to remain calm in busy places with a lot of people. They must also be:
- Easily controllable
- They meet safety restrictions on weight limits
- Must be completely housebroken
If they meet these requirements they may be accepted to accompany individuals in public places and airports as an ESA.
You may not instantly think of a pig as being a common house pet, but these animals have some surprising qualities that make great ESAs. Pigs are highly intelligent and easy to train. They make excellent companions with a sociable nature and love cuddles and getting scratches. More specifically micro pigs or miniature pigs can be great companions for traveling as they are easier to handle and get no bigger than a medium sized dog when fully grown.
Though these are not as common as other types of animals, hedgehogs have been recognized by U.S. doctors as qualified ESAs. Despite their offputting appearance with their prickly spikes, these little creatures are quite affectionate and have a gentle character. Their prickles relax as they become comfortable with their handlers making them easier to handle. One thing to keep in mind, however, is these are not accepted on flights to accompany their owners.
Regardless of what type of emotional support animal you choose, the right one for you can prove very rewarding. ESAs help people with a variety of emotional issues cope with their disorders and lead a more normal life.