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The Ultimate Guide to Getting an Emotional Support Dog

More and more people are opting for emotional support animals (ESAs) to help with mental health issues. In 2014, there were 2,400 support dogs. By 2019, 200,000 people owned an ESA dog. 

Emotional support animals can provide a sense of comfort and companionship to those suffering from mental health conditions. But not everyone knows how to qualify for an emotional support dog or where to start.

The thought of navigating legal requirements, finding a suitable dog, and training it to provide the necessary support can be a lot to handle. It can be especially challenging for those who are dealing with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health conditions that make even simple tasks seem impossible.

But when you know how the process works, you’ll understand that accessing the emotional support and comfort you desire isn’t out of reach.

How to Get an Emotional Support Dog 

To get an emotional support dog, you need a signed letter from your mental health professional stating you have a mental illness and your dog helps you cope with the condition.

Once you have your ESA letter, getting a dog for emotional support can be as simple as choosing the right breed, vetting reputable breeders, and bringing your pet home. 

Best Emotional Support Dog Breeds

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Corgi
  • Poodle

Your current pet can also be your emotional support animal. ESA dogs don’t require specific training, nor do you have to buy a certain dog breed. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide that walks you through everything you need to know about how to get an emotional support dog, including legal details, the process of finding the right pet, and how to ensure it has the training necessary to enhance your quality of life.

Who Can Get an Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support animal is a special companion that provides comfort and support to individuals experiencing emotional or mental health challenges. These furry friends can brighten one’s day and alleviate feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression.

Studies show that they help those with chronic mental health issues by relieving feelings of loneliness and providing a sense of calm. Emotional support dogs play a crucial role in their owner’s journey toward better mental health and overall well-being.

You can qualify for an ESA dog if you’re suffering from emotional or mental distress and have a diagnosis. 

Psychiatrists, therapists, and other mental health professionals can recommend an emotional support dog for a patient with anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, or other mental illnesses. 

You can talk to your health care provider if you suffer from these or other emotional or psychological challenges. That’s the first step to getting an emotional support dog. 

elderly woman with support animal

Should You Get an ESA Dog or a Service Dog?

If you’re considering an emotional support dog, you’ve probably thought about getting a psychiatric service dog, too. Service dogs provide emotional support like ESA dogs, but they also help their handlers with daily tasks.

Let’s look at the difference so you know what type of support animal is right for you. 

Emotional support dogs vs. service dogs

An ESA is intended to improve or stabilize an individual’s mental health. But they aren’t trained to provide specific tasks like a service dog would. Their forte is therapeutic benefits, not service. 

woman on bench with emotional support animal, english cream golden retriever

One important thing to keep in mind: emotional support animals don’t have the same legal protections as psychiatric service dogs, so they can’t go anywhere that pets aren’t allowed.

They’re only protected by the Fair Housing Act, which states that you can live with them fee-free in housing that doesn’t allow pets. But you can’t bring them into businesses, public places, and other areas where pets aren’t permitted. 

Service dogs are working dogs, so legally, they aren’t considered pets. As such, they can go with you anywhere, including on planes and public transportation, into stores, restaurants, and schools.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a true service dog is an animal that has been individually trained to provide a certain task to a person with a disability.

For example, a diabetic alert dog is a type of service animal that will alert its owner to dangerous blood sugar levels. A psychiatric service dog might help someone with PTSD avoid triggers that could lead to a panic attack, such as a dark room or loud noises. 

So which type of  animal is right for you? You should consider getting an ESA if you’re looking for help with a mental health condition, but if you need more than that, a service animal might be a better companion for you. 

Getting an Emotional Support Dog: Legal Requirements, Finding a Dog, and ESA Training

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, the steps to getting an ESA are straightforward. But there are a lot of things you should know as you navigate the process. Here are the steps for getting an official emotional support animal. 

Step #1: Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog

You need a letter from a licensed medical practitioner to qualify for an ESA.

If you believe you suffer from a mental health issue, reach out to a therapist, psychologist, or another licensed mental health professional and talk to them about what you’re experiencing and what treatments might help, including an ESA.

Who Can Prescribe an Emotional Support Dog?

A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, counselor, nurse, or PA has to first diagnose you with a mental health condition and write an ESA letter. After diagnosis, your therapist or primary care physician can prescribe an emotional support animal.

Where Should You Register Your ESA?

You don’t need to register your dog to make it a legitimate emotional support animal. In fact, there is no official place to register emotional support dogs — so any place that says you can register your pet is fraudulent

Step #2: Find an ESA Dog

Once a medical professional prescribes an emotional support dog and gives you an ESA letter, it’s time to pick out your furry companion. 

Can You Make Your Own Dog an ESA?

If you already have a dog, he can serve as your emotional support animal. You don’t have to purchase a specially-trained dog.

However, just any dog won’t necessarily be able to offer the comfort and stress relief you’re looking for to help you with your condition. That’s why it’s important to research your options and find the right dog for you, taking into consideration breed, training, and budget.

What Dog Breeds Make Good Emotional Support Animals?

The best breeds for emotional support are friendly, loyal, and intelligent. Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers tick all the boxes, which is why they’re often trained to be emotional support dogs and service dogs. 

happy family with emotional support animal, english cream golden retriever

According to the AKC, these breeds are some of the best family dogs because of their intelligence, friendly demeanor, and unwavering loyalty — which is what you’d want in a support animal. 

The devoted American Staffordshire Terrier also makes a good emotional support dog, although this breed does need to be properly socialized.

Corgis are a good option as well for owners who can handle this dog’s high energy levels. With their high intelligence and natural receptivity, Poodles can offer emotional support to people who require a hypoallergenic dog. 

What Training Should an ESA Have?

ESA dogs don’t legally require formal training. But taking care of a dog is a big responsibility, and a dog that’s not trained can become a burden rather than a source of relief.

An emotional support puppy or dog that has gone through a special ESA training program will be able to offer you the support you require the moment they walk into the door. Emotional support training teaches a dog to:

  • Be a good citizen and behave in public.
  • Be sensitive to their handler’s needs. 
  • Provide comfort and stay close to their handler at all times. 

How Much Money Is an Emotional Support Dog?

The cost of an emotional support dog depends on what you’re looking for. As you don’t technically have to get a specially trained animal to have an official ESA dog, you can choose a pet from a shelter, keeping your costs down. 

However, your support dog isn’t just a pet. They’re a source of therapy intended to improve your sense of stability, security, and calm.

Here’s something to keep in mind: if you purchase an animal that has behavioral problems, is prone to disease because of their breeding, or isn’t specially trained, you aren’t necessarily going to get the therapeutic benefits you seek. 

That’s why you should get your emotional support animal from a reputable breeder. Puppies who are raised in a nurturing and supportive environment are easier to train and better suited for a high-responsibility role like emotional support. 

Learn about our home in the Ozarks where Snowy Pines White Labs and English Cream Retrievers spend their first weeks of life. 

Step #3: Start Bonding and Building a Supportive Relationship

Once you bring your new dog or puppy home, the fun really begins. You should spend as much time with your emotional support dog as possible to build a bond between you and your companion animal. You’ll also want to get into a routine right away to help you feel more stable and enable your pet to get used to their new life with you. 

As you bond with your emotional support dog, you’ll find a lifelong friend that will help you through some of your toughest times with a wagging tail, friendly nudge, and a listening ear.


Whether it’s loneliness, anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition, you deserve to feel better.

Fortunately, an emotional support dog can help, and getting an ESA isn’t difficult once you understand how the process works.

But it’s important to get a dog that can truly offer the support that will help you with your condition.

Snowy Pines specially trains our puppies to be loving, supportive ESA dogs. Learn more about our emotional support dog training program and the opportunity to get a well-trained emotional support dog from Snowy Pines, the top English Labrador trainer in the nation!

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About the Author


Tom Massey

Tom Massey has owned and operated Snowy Pines Labradors for over a decade. They have become the leaders in English Labradors in the US. He and his team serve customers all over the US and Europe. They house their "dog family" in a state of the art facility on a large farm in the Ozark Mountains. With an obsession for genetics and temperament they raise and train dogs known across the globe for health and personality. Tom serves the pet industry in many forms campaigning for ethical breeding, training, and pet ownership.


Calm Tempered, AKC Purebred, and Certified Genetics.