How to Get an Emotional Support Dog: A Complete Guide

There’s nothing quite like the love and companionship we get from dogs. They listen without judging, comfort you when you’ve had a bad day, and make you smile every time you walk through the door. Did you know that dogs can actually be used as part of a treatment plan for mental health conditions? Known as emotional support animals, they can help their owners deal with depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders. If you think you may qualify, keep reading to find out how to get an emotional support dog for yourself.

The Difference Between Service and Emotional Support Animals

Though they may perform similar functions, psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs) aren’t one and the same. The primary difference is that service animals perform very specific tasks that their handlers are unable to do by themselves. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, are more like specialized companion pets. They give their owners comfort during difficult emotional circumstances, but don’t do any tasks for them.

The other major difference has to do with training. Service dogs have to go through rigorous training and pass a series of tests. If the dog fails, it isn’t allowed to become a certified service animal. In contrast, emotional support dogs don’t have to meet any specific legal requirements. But even though they don’t have to go through a specific training program, it can help encourage good behavior and allow them to do their job better. Click here to read more about enrolling your dog in emotional support training. Finally, service animals are limited by species. Only dogs and miniature horses can be legally certified as service animals, while you can register any type of animal as an emotional support animal.

How to Get an Emotional Support Dog

Before you can get an emotional support animal for yourself, there are a couple of things you have to do. First, you have to get evaluated by a therapist. Then, you have to select a dog with the right temperament to be a support animal.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what each of these steps entails.

Therapist Evaluation

Before you can get any type of emotional support animal, you first have to be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional. They will determine whether or not you have a diagnosable psychological disability. These conditions must be legitimate and specific conditions that are listed in the DSM. Conditions that emotional support animals can help with include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Motor skill disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorders

Once you’ve been diagnosed with a mental disability, your therapist has to decide whether they think you would benefit from an emotional support animal. If so, they will write you a letter of necessity. This letter won’t include any specific information about your disability; it will only say that you have a mental health condition that would benefit from an emotional support animal. This is the only legal way to prove your dog is an ESA, so don’t fall for the trap of buying phony certificates online.

Buying Your Dog

Once you have a letter of medical necessity from your therapist, it’s time to select a dog. Some dog owners prefer to use their existing pets for emotional support. If you choose to do this, keep in mind that your dog needs to have a calm temperament and behave well in public. While we love every dog we come across, not all of them are well-suited to fill the role of an emotional support animal.

Others choose to buy a new dog specifically for this purpose. There are no restrictions on which breeds you can choose from. But if you’re choosing to adopt a Doberman, Rottweiler, Pit Bull, or other “dangerous” breed, make sure your city laws allow it. When selecting a dog, try to find one that’s already been trained in emotional support if you can. If not, spend a lot of time working with your dog to help them understand how best to comfort you in your time of need. Try not to choose a pet with an aggressive, defensive, or anxious personality. Any bad stress-responses or behavior problems will only get worse if your dog lives in an emotionally unstable environment.

Where You Can Take Your Emotional Support Dog

According to federal law, emotional support animals are allowed in any housing environment as long as they don’t pose an immediate threat to residents or property. This includes apartments, houses, and even college housing. Landlords aren’t allowed to charge extra fees or raise rent prices due to your assistance animal. The only thing they can charge you for is property damage caused by your pet.

Most airlines also allow emotional support animals on planes free of charge. However, each of them has its own specific rules. Many ask that you contact the airline ahead of time and provide them with a letter of necessity from your therapist at least 48 hours before your flight. If you don’t follow the right steps, the airline doesn’t have to let you bring your support animal on the plane.

ESA Restrictions

While they’re allowed in living and transportation environments, an emotional support animal doesn’t have the same access to public spaces as service animals do. Private businesses like stores and restaurants have the right to refuse entry to any animal that isn’t a service dog or horse. Even if your dog has an unofficial “emotional support animal” vest, you could still be asked to leave your animal outside.

Because emotional support dogs don’t have to go through standardized training, it’s very important to make sure they’re well behaved enough to enter public places. Bad experiences with untrained support animals make it more difficult for other people with medically necessary service dogs to go about their daily lives.

If you were wondering how to get an emotional support dog, we hope your questions have been answered. To get started with the process, schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health professional today. Want more information on living with a healthy mind, body, and soul? Make sure to check out the rest of our site for related articles.

 

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