Dogster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

How to Certify an Emotional Support Dog: 4 Steps to Take (Vet-Reviewed)

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on May 3, 2024 by Dogster Team

young girl with emotional support dog

How to Certify an Emotional Support Dog: 4 Steps to Take (Vet-Reviewed)


Dr. Ashley Darby Photo


Dr. Ashley Darby

BVSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Our canine companions improve our lives in a myriad of ways. However, dogs can improve things immensely for those dealing with emotional or mental health issues. In fact, dogs can even be certified as emotional support animals (ESAs) if they help ease anxiety, depression, or phobias.

But if you’re in need of an emotional support animal and want your dog to qualify, how do you go about getting them certified? It’s actually a much simpler process than you’d think, with only a few required steps. You should know a couple of things before getting started on the process, though.

dogster paw divider

Who Can Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog?

Not everybody can have an emotional support dog. To qualify, you must have a diagnosed mental or emotional disorder, and your dog must offer you comfort and support for that condition. Some of the illnesses and conditions that you can have an emotional support dog for include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Mood disorders
  • Autism

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-03

How to Certify an Emotional Support Dog

It’s a straightforward process, and in reality, it isn’t getting your dog a certificate that states they are an ESA, but rather obtaining for yourself a letter that states you need an ESA. Here are the steps to do that.

1. Find a qualified mental health professional.

This can be a therapist, psychiatrist, or counselor, but they must be licensed. If you are not already diagnosed with a mental health condition, they will evaluate you to determine if you qualify for an ESA. If you have already been diagnosed or they determine you do have an applicable diagnosis, the mental health professional will then decide if an ESA would benefit you.

man and woman talking in the living room
Image Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych, Shutterstock

2. Have the mental health professional assess your needs.

If your licensed mental health professional determines an ESA would benefit you, they’ll provide you with an ESA letter, which includes information about your condition and how an emotional support dog benefits you.

3. Once you have your ESA letter, your dog is technically certified.

You just need to show the letter to your landlord to qualify to have your pet live with you as an ESA.

signing papers and documents
Image Credit: smolaw, Shutterstock

4. Don’t fall for scams!

Many sites online will offer up “ESA letters” with official seals or extra items like ESA vests and collars or ESA registration (which is not a real thing). None of these are necessary. All you need is the ESA letter to have your dog recognized as an ESA. So, be careful!

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-03

What Are the Benefits of Having an Emotional Support Dog?

Unfortunately, emotional support dogs don’t offer the same benefits as service dogs. One significant difference between the benefits of the two is that service dogs are allowed into public spaces, such as restaurants, while emotional support animals are not. So, with a service dog, you could legally take them into a coffee shop with you, but with an emotional support dog, the coffee shop is not legally required to allow them in. If you want to bring your emotional support dog to a public space, you will need to call ahead to find out if they will allow you to do so.

Previously, airlines were supposed to accommodate those with emotional support animals, but as of 2021, that is no longer the case. Now, airlines are allowed to make a case-by-case determination on whether an emotional support dog can stay in the cabin with their owner during a flight. Unfortunately, in most cases, they do not allow this. This is another situation where you’ll need to call in advance to see if your dog will be allowed. You can also search to see if there are airlines that still accept ESAs on a regular basis.

girl caresses emotional support dog
Image Credit: Anagarcia, Shutterstock

The main benefit of having an emotional support dog is the housing benefit. The Fair Housing Act states that reasonable accommodations must be made for ESAs, even in buildings or houses that wouldn’t normally allow pets to live there. In addition to the right to have your emotional support dog live with you, you can also request that any pet fees, like a pet deposit, be waived.

Of course, there’s also the benefit of improved mental health!

dogster paw divider

Emotional Support Dogs vs Psychiatric Service Dogs

You might have heard the terms “emotional support dog” and “psychiatric service dog” and thought they were interchangeable, but these are actually two different things. A psychiatric service dog is technically a service animal, which means they are trained to do specific tasks for their owners and are allowed into public spaces.

On the other hand, an emotional support dog is generally not trained to perform any tasks and is not considered a service animal, so they have fewer rights than a service animal.

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-03

Final Thoughts

Certifying your dog as an emotional support animal is relatively simple. You just need to talk with a licensed mental health professional of some kind who can diagnose you and/or determine if you will benefit from an ESA. Once they’ve decided you will benefit, you’ll get an ESA letter, which is the only thing you need to have your dog recognized as an ESA.

Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Get Dogster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Dogster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.