For individuals who have mental health disabilities, including mental health disorders or a mental illness, an emotional support dog (ESD) can help enrich your life. ESDs assist with many different mental health disorders and mental conditions, including
- Bipolar Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Brain Injuries
- And More!
For those who have an anxiety disorder, an ESD can help their owners lead a fuller life with more companionship and interaction that can help ease the struggles of anxiety and anxiety attacks.
What is Anxiety Disorder?
There are different types of Anxiety Disorders. While some may be more severe than others, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines them as separate categories and each their disorder. An ESD can help with any type you may fall under. They include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Described as a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread that interferes with daily life, symptoms can include:
- Feeling restless, wound-up, on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches, and unexplained pains
- Sleeping problems
Described as a sudden period of intense fear, discomfort o,r a sense of losing control when there is no apparent danger or trigger. Not everyone who experiences a panic attack has a panic disorder, but it can lead to it. Symptoms include:
- Pounding or racing heart
- Trembling or tingling
- Chest pains
- Feelings of impending doom
- Feelings of being out of control
Social Anxiety Disorder
Intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can get in the way of going to work, school, or even out in public and doing everyday things. Symptoms include:
- Blushing, sweating, trembling
- Pounding or racing heart
- Stomach aches
- Rigid body posture or speaking with an overly soft voice
- Difficulty making eye contact or being around strangers
- Feelings of extreme self-consciousness
- Fear of being judged negatively
Intense fear or aversion to specific objects or situations, a phobia-related disorder, makes the actual danger feel disproportionate to the person experiencing the phobic setting or thing. Some phobias include:
- Agoraphobia: Fear of being in public or crowded spaces without easy means of escape
- Aerophobia: Fear of flying
- Acrophobia: Fear of heights
- Autophobia: Fear of benign alone
- Claustrophobia: Fear of tight or crowded spaces
- Entomophobia: Fear of insects
- Hypochondria: Fear of illnesses
- Mysophobia: Fear of dirt and germs
- Pyrophobia: Fear of fire
- Nyctophobia: Fear of darkness
How Can an ESD Help My Anxiety Disorder?
An emotional support dog can offer someone with an anxiety disorder a calming and grounding experience that can aid in relieving their mental health symptoms for a short period. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) looks at ESDs as a valuable part of an individual's life.
ESDs can be trained to perform tasks essential to their owner's specific needs, such as using grounding therapy or even fetching medication when the individual cannot. A licensed mental health professional can help get an emotional support animal, such as a dog, and can assist in answering any questions.
While an ESD is similar to a psychiatric service dog (PSD), an ESD does not have the same rights as a PSD. A psychiatric service dog is trained to perform specific tasks to aid its owners, while an ESD or a therapy dog is not specifically trained to perform tasks. Yet, they can help calm their owners down in a high-stress or high-emotional situation.
How to Get an Emotional Support Dog
An emotional support dog can be the best choice made when it comes to handling your anxiety disorder. The first step is to talk with a licensed mental health professional or your physician to see if an ESD is the best fit for you. After that step, it can be a smooth process to meet emotional support dogs and find the best fit for you and your disorder.
Step One: Diagnosis
The first step is speaking with a mental health professional or your physician to see if your symptoms lead to an anxiety disorder. This is a crucial step, as having an ESD may not be accessible without a doctor's note or a mental health professional's recommendation that a service animal is the best fit for you.
Step Two: Emotional Support Animal Letter
Upon being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the next step is to receive an emotional support animal (ESA) letter. This letter states that an ESA is medically advised to help you in your day-to-day life and mental disability. Using Pettable's online option, an ESA Letter can be available within 24 hours of meeting with a licensed mental health professional who determines if an ESD is a right fit for you.
An emotional support animal letter may be beneficial for housing situations that do not allow pets. Service animals are not allowed to be turned down by housing developments or travel restrictions, as they are medically needed to live a healthy life.
Step Three: Finding Your Emotional Support Dog
You've been diagnosed and have an ESA letter...now what? Well, now the fun begins. The best part of finding an ESD is finding the perfect service dog that is an ideal fit for you. The ESD can be any breed, as long as it is not aggressive, trainable, and able to assist you in relieving symptoms of the anxiety disorder.
Finding an emotional support dog can be a bit daunting. Some of the best things to look for are:
- Loving and loyal
A dog who is all these things is a better breed to consider for a service dog. It can be essential to hit almost all or all the points with a service dog, as they must be able to offer the best support possible when working with you as a companion.
While there is no right or wrong breed to become a service dog, there are some that may be better and easier trained than others. These include
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- Yorkshire Terriers
- German Shepherds
- Cocker Spaniels
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
If you already have a dog that you want to make an ESA dog, you can still go through the ESA letter process. You will need to find a licensed mental health professional to give you an appropriate diagnosis and confirm that an emotional support animal would improve your quality of life. Since ESA letters don’t need to be attached to a specific animal, you can use your ESA letter for your existing pet dog.
Step Four: Training
Training is one of the essential steps in finding your emotional support dog. There is the option of getting a service dog already trained; however, emotional support dogs are typically trained upon being fit with an individual with a specific need.
There are two options when it comes to training your emotional support dog. The first is to have the dog professionally trained with a trainer licensed in training service animals and emotional support animals. The second is to do independent training with your ESD at home.
FAQ About Emotional Support Dogs
While there are many benefits centered around emotional support dogs, there can still be questions surrounding the process, the service dogs, and more.
Can I train a dog I already own to be an emotional support dog?
Yes! If the already owned dog can be trained, it can be an emotional support dog. As long as it is not aggressive and friendly yet able to help you, you do not need to look into getting a second dog.
How much can an emotional support dog cost?
It depends on the dog, the training, and the circumstances. While getting a dog professionally trained by a trainer specializing in training service animals can run from $20,000 to $30,000, independently introducing an ESD can cost less.
What do I need to train my emotional support dog?
Small treats for rewarding good behavior, patience, time, and energy all go into training an emotional support dog. Service animals need to be worked with daily to ensure they are working to their full potential.
Does my service animal have to be an emotional support dog?
If a dog does not seem like a good fit for your service animal, there is always the option of a cat as an emotional support animal. Check with your physician and mental health professional to better understand what may best fit your lifestyle.