Making Your Dog Your Emotional Support Animal

Doberman as an Emotional Support Animal

These days, it’s more and more common to hear about people making their pet an Emotional Support Animal or Service Dog.

Let’s get one thing right, a Service Dog is any dog that performs a task that helps their handler with a disability. An Emotional Support Dog provides general comfort and support. To be considered a Service Dog, your dog must be trained to perform a task that specifically helps you cope with your disability. You have every right to train your dog independently or seek professional assistance.

Emotional Support Dog Rides Train

An Emotional Support Animal is different.

Emotional Support Animals (or ESAs) do not need to be trained in any specific tasks but do need to be trained in general good behavior. They don’t qualify under the American Disability Act but are protected by the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

If you’re thinking about making your pet dog an Emotional Support Animal, keep reading.

There’s only one way for your pet to become your ESA

There is only one way for your pet to become your Emotional Support Animal, and that is through the prescription by your licensed mental health professional. If you have a mental health disorder that meets the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) criteria, you may be a candidate to maintain an ESA.

Through assessing your symptoms and behaviors, a licensed mental health professional may opt to prescribe you to maintain an Emotional Support Animal to mitigate symptoms brought on by a mental health disorder. Disorders can include, but are not limited to; depression, generalized anxiety, sleep problems, specific phobias, or stress disorders.

Maintaining a letter from your therapist

To maintain your dog as an Emotional Support Animal, you’ll need a letter from your therapist or mental health professional. The letter must be current within 12 months and must be renewed yearly.

Flying with your Emotional Support Animal

ESA Dog Flies Carry On Only

When flying with your ESA, a letter from your therapist is typically all you need to share with the airline, however some airlines require that you identify your dog as an ESA through the presence of vests, tags or leashes. Each airline’s policy may vary, so always check the airline’s website beforehand, and confirm airport rules in your departure and arrival cities. Under the Air Carrier Act, ESAs fly with you in the cabin. Dogs under 25 pounds sit in front of you and dogs over 25 pounds may be seated bulkhead with you, or you may purchase the seat next to yours for the floor space. Read our guide to a happy flight here.

Living with Your Emotional Support Animal

Emotional Support Dogs are exempt from size restrictions and no pet policies

Housing is a little different. ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Act for tenants with disabilities. Many landlords expect tenants to provide a certificate, stating that the dog is a registered ESA. This is not a requirement of the Fair Housing Act, however; most tenants find it easier to comply than to request reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act (often through the support of a lawyer and sometimes even in court). A digital certification is often the most timely and cost-efficient way to maintain your Emotional Support Animal in your home.

Training Your Emotional Support Animal

The last thing you have to do to maintain an Emotional Support Animal is ensure they have proper basic training. Emotional Support Animals are not exempt from being well behaved. Excessive or uncontrolled barking, destruction of property or signs of aggression are all bad behaviors that will need to be dealt with through private or independent training.

Remember, Emotional Support Animals bring comfort and wellbeing to people with a mental health disorder. Check with your mental health care professional to discuss if an ESA is right for you.

Registration is quick and easy

Register your dog as a Service Dog, ESA, or Therapy Dog now and obtain your certification immediately.


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