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Working Dog Spotlight: Emotional Support Dogs

May 05, 2021 2 min read
woman sitting with dog on her lap

You might have heard of emotional support dogs, but are you familiar with the role of this type of working dog? Though different from service animals, emotional support dogs play an important role in the mental health and safety of their handlers.

What are emotional support dogs?

Emotional support dogs are dogs that provide specific therapeutic benefits to individuals who have emotional and psychological issues. These may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Mood disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Fear/phobias
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Suicidal Thoughts/Tendencies

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) don’t have to be dogs and are not restricted by species. However, dogs are the most common type of ESA due to their outgoing nature. In order for an animal to be considered an ESA, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist must determine that the animal’s presence is necessary for the mental health of its owner.

Are emotional support dogs service animals?

Emotional support dogs are technically not serviceanimals because they do not perform specific tasks for their owners, they are just there to offer unconditional love and support. Emotional support dogs also require no special training. Because they are not service animals, emotional support dogs are not allowed in public places like restaurants and shopping malls in the way that guide dogs and other service dogs are.

Emotional support dogs are still protected under federal law. The Air Carrier Access Act allows service and emotional support animals to accompany their handlers in aircrafts. Unlike bringing a regular pet aboard you are exempt from paying additional fees. However, airlines require documentation that your dog is an ESA. The Fair Housing Act includes emotional support dogs in the definition of support animals, meaning that you cannot be discriminated against in housing if you own an ESA.

Are emotional support dogs therapy dogs?

Emotional support dogs differ slightly from therapy dogs. While they offer the same emotional support and benefits, therapy dogs can work with groups of people such as in a hospital, school, library, etc. While emotional support dogs help their owners, therapy dogs provide service to many different people.

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Take a look at our blog for more dog spotlights, like this post on Search and Rescue Dogs.


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