Best Dog Breeds for Emotional Support Animals

It is a well-known fact that dogs can have a calming effect on the people interacting with them. Petting a dog can actually lower blood pressure. This article will answer the question, What is an emotional support animal? In addition, we will discuss what are the best dog breeds for emotional support animals.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal (in this case we will only discuss canine ESAs) whose presence a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist has determined necessary for a patient’s mental health. There is no particular set of skills the dog has to have to qualify as an ESA.

A therapist must prescribe an ESA for a patient in order to qualify a dog as an ESA. An ESA must have a therapeutic effect on a patient’s life for a therapist to prescribe the ESA for a patient. ESA requirements may vary depending upon which state you are applying from. However, the first step is to find an ESA therapist to write an ESA Letter. The ESA Letter proves that your ESA was prescribed for a legitimate condition that requires the ESA’s presence in your life. This letter can help you with transportation and housing to prove your ESAs are necessary for your mental health.

Woman hugging basenji for emotional support
Basenji as an emotional support dog

Do you Already Have a Dog that is your ESA Dog?

If you currently have a dog or dogs that are already serving the role of emotional support dog(s) for you, but you just want to make it official? Here is some information that will help you to achieve that goal.

ESAs are most frequently dogs and sometimes cats. There are no guarantees that you will be allowed to fly on an airline wearing your emotional support python wrapped around your neck! ESAs are most frequently dogs or cats.

Here is a link to a website that performs the service of matching you with an ESA therapist for the purpose of acquiring an ESA Letter.

Here is another link to a different site that provides the same service.

I have not used the service of either of these sites so this is just for your reference to provide you with information on the ESA process.

  • The Department of Transportation has issued guidance that airlines may deny transport to “unusual” animals, such as snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders. Please also be aware that some landlords are very averse to ESAs that are not dogs or cats. Airlines and landlords are also permitted to deny ESAs that pose a threat or may cause harm. Please reference our return policy for more information.

Differences between ESAs and Service Dogs

ESAs and Service dogs are two entirely different things. Service dogs are defined by the ADA as:

Yorkie as a service dog
Yorkie as a service dog

A. Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Unlike Service dogs that are allowed to go everywhere their human goes, ESAs are not. The ESA Letter will help some with transportation and housing, however, you won’t be able to go into restaurants and grocery stores with an ESA whereas with a service dog this would be allowed.

Qualities to Look for in an Emotional Support Dog

If you don’t have a dog but feel that an emotional support dog could really help you, then it will be beneficial for you to know what are the most important qualities to look for when looking for your emotional support dog.

Some mental health diagnoses of people needing an ESA include PTSD, depression, anxiety, bipolar, and other serious conditions. A person with a serious mental health condition does not need a dog that adds more stress to their lives.

Depending upon the reason for your anxiety, depression, etc., adopting an adult dog from a shelter or rescue group would probably be a better choice than getting a new puppy. There is a lot more responsibility and effort needed to raise and train a new puppy than with an adult dog. Especially if you search specifically for an already house-trained, well-mannered adult dog.

One thing to consider with an ESA is size. Small dogs can more easily go places with their human than large dogs. I’ve seen people walking around pushing carriages that, from a distance look like baby strollers. However, as I got closer, I could see that the stroller passenger was a cute little canine. Small dogs can also easily be carried around in various types of dog carriers, similar to babies.

Mixed-Breed Dogs can be Great Emotional Support Dogs

Mixed-breed shelter dogs could be a great choice for your emotional support dog. Talk to people that work at the shelter or rescue group and tell them you are looking for an emotional support dog and it’s very likely they will be of great help to you as they take care of these dogs daily and know them well.

Mixed-breed dogs make great ESAs
Mixed-breed dogs make great ESAs

Most reputable shelters are putting in the time, money, and effort involved in training the dogs and getting them ready for adoption. Either finding the owners who have lost the dogs who arrive at the shelter or training them so they will make great pets and hopefully be adopted by a loving person or family.

There are no breed requirements for emotional support dogs.

What are the Best Breeds for Emotional Support Dogs?

Selecting a companion for your emotional support dog is a very personal choice and will depend upon the individual and what helps the person to feel more secure and comforted and less anxious, depressed, and stressed. Even though it may be easier and less expensive to get a small dog if a person is more comforted by a larger breed, then they should be looking at the larger breeds.

Similarly, you should be looking at small breeds if you are more comforted by smaller dogs, and for some, the size of the dog won’t matter.

Regardless of breed size, it will be important to look at breeds and mixes that are friendly, calm, affectionate, confident, and loving. There are exceptions however most ESAs should be low-maintenance, loyal to their human, and be able to develop a strong bond with their human.

Large Breeds good for ESAs

People looking for an ESA have very different requirements when it comes to energy level and how they will be spending their time with their ESA. Also, the people in question may be of varying ages, gender, and physical abilities. Increasing your activity is best for most people as it increases endorphins which are a natural mood elevator.

In the end, people will be looking for different energy needs from their ESA.


The Viszla is a breed that is on the larger side that would meet your needs if you want your companion to hike and actively play outside with you as well as relax and curl up next to you at night.

Vizslas also are very low maintenance and do not have the doggy odor that some other breeds do, possibly because they lick themselves clean as a cat does. They have no undercoat and very short fur so shedding is minimal.

They are extremely sweet, loving, joyful athletic, and energetic dogs which makes them a great overall choice as ESA dogs for an active person looking for an active companion.

Labrador Retriever

Most people love labs, in fact, the labrador retriever has been the most popular breed in the United States for several years. They are extremely lovable, sweet dogs.

Labrador retrievers are one of the gentlest breeds there is, so this makes them excellent ESAs. Another bonus of this popular dog breed is that they’re highly food motivated, making them much easier to train than other breeds. Labradors are great with kids too, so they’re perfect to welcome into families. These dogs are the ultimate all-rounders, so they make an excellent choice for ESA work.

Labs make excellent ESAs
Labs make excellent ESAs

Their temperament is perfect for an ESA. They are easy-going and happy, and nothing seems to bother them too much. They are trustworthy, dependable, and lovable. Because labs are extremely food-motivated, they learn quickly. Certain Tasks or behaviors that come naturally to labrador retrievers have been found to reduce anxiety. These behaviors include lying beside you with their head resting on you, or providing deep pressure therapy, which is used to help reduce anxiety. This can be induced by hugging, weighted blankets, and brushing a dog or a dog laying across your body.

The temperament of labrador retrievers perfectly suits them to be emotional support dogs. The words that most accurately describe the temperament of a lab include passionate, happy, gentle, energetic, loyal, loving, people-pleaser, and lively.

Standard Poodle

Poodles make excellent emotional support dogs. If you are looking for a large breed ESA, a standard poodle would be an excellent choice. Poodles have a lot going for them as they are among the most intelligent and longest-living dog breeds. While lifespan is very important for all dogs, as it is very devastating to lose a pet, it is most likely even more devastating for a mentally unstable person to lose their emotional support dog.

Standard Poodle as ESA
Standard poodles make great ESAs

Poodles are also very loving and loyal dogs. When you think of goofy, fun-loving dogs, poodles aren’t usually the first dog breed that comes to mind. However, those words do accurately describe poodles.

These beautiful dogs have the added benefit of very little shedding. This is because they actually have hair that if left uncut will continue to grow, like human hair. So it is important to keep a poodle’s hair cut and groomed to prevent it from matting.

Small Breeds good for ESAs

People who prefer smaller dogs or simply have financial restrictions that don’t allow them to consider a large breed will be happy to know that there are many small breeds that make wonderful ESAs. As small breeds are somewhat more popular for ESAs, it is good to know there are plenty of breeds that will meet these needs.

Small dog as emotional support dog
Small dog as an emotional support dog

Yorkshire Terrier

The Yorkshire Terrier, or “Yorkie”, is one of the smallest dog breeds. Yorkies are a teacup breed at only 7 inches tall at most and weigh anywhere from 2 to 7 pounds. Yorkies have energetic and feisty personalities and can be domineering. Those particular traits don’t sound particularly comforting, however, they love attention so this could be positive in an ESA.

Due to their small stature, they require little room for exercise. This makes them a great choice for someone living in an apartment or mobile home. They do require some exercise such as walks and some playtime. Yorkies are great for people without children or other pets primarily so they can be the center of attention. People who really have to feel needed will appreciate this personality trait.

Yorkies have high grooming needs for their size, however, brushing a dog’s hair can be therapeutic for some Keeping the hair cut short, preventing it from continually growing, the grooming becomes easier.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

These little dogs were bred for the purpose of companionship so ESA traits come naturally to them. They are by nature very sweet and loving dogs that also do just fine living in apartments. They love everybody, adults, children, and other pets. For owners that require a great deal of love and affection, this could be your ESA.

The traits that best describe this breed are patient, loving, playful, affectionate, fearless, and eager to please. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are extremely adaptable to most lifestyles. If their owners are active and have children, they will happily play with the children and be active. Also, if their owners are older and inactive they will adapt to that lifestyle.

Bichon Frise

This is another little dog that’s loyal, affectionate, and loving toward its owner and gets along well with other dogs. The Bichon Frise can live in any space and will take on any activity. However, they are happiest when they are spending time at your side or cuddling on your lap.

The Bichon’s coat will keep growing and get very matted if it is not kept cut short and regularly groomed. The best words to describe the temperament of a Bichon Frise are playful, cheerful, feisty, sensitive, and gentle.

These are happy and enthusiastic little dogs that love to play. They are very intelligent and are also great for apartment living due to their small size. However, in spite of their small size be sure to give them plenty of playtime and activity. They don’t do well being left home alone for long hours of the day. These dogs require a lot of love and attention but they will also return that love to their owner. These are fantastic traits for an emotional support dog.

Final Thoughts

The unconditional love and affection given by these dogs are extremely beneficial for those suffering from mental illness. I think this is a wonderful demonstration of the bond between humans and dogs. These dogs provide a sense of security to their caregivers. This security is very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety.

What has your experience been with emotional support animals? Please feel free to discuss your experiences with emotional support animals? If you have had or currently have an ESA, do you feel that they are helping your quality of life?

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4 thoughts on “Best Dog Breeds for Emotional Support Animals”

    • Hi Trissten,

      An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal whose presence a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist has determined necessary for a patient’s mental health.

      A therapist must prescribe an ESA for a patient in order to qualify a dog (or another animal) as an ESA. An ESA must have a therapeutic effect on a patient’s life for a therapist to prescribe the ESA for a patient.

      I hope this helps, the article has links to sites where you can get more information and an ESA Letter that provides certain privileges in housing and transportation.

      Please feel free to ask me more if you have more questions.

      Thanks very much,


  1. Wow, it is my first time to hear about an ESA dog. I just always assumed any dog can be that to be honest.
    I guess you have explained my main question between a service and an ESA dog. I think that is where my confusion was.
    Thank you

    • Hi Thabo,

      Yes, Service dogs have a different set of rules than Emotional Support Animals. So it’s good to know the difference.
      Thanks very much for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it.



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