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What Do Emotional Support Dogs Do? Facts & FAQ

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on April 8, 2024 by Dogster Team


What Do Emotional Support Dogs Do? Facts & FAQ

Dogs are highly attuned to our emotions. When we have a bad day or are stressed out, dogs just seem to know and offer love and cuddles to improve it. This is exactly why dogs make excellent emotional support animals (ESAs).

Different from service dogs, emotional support dogs offer companionship and comfort that can be helpful in easing anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.


What Is an Emotional Support Dog?

Arguably all dogs—or pets in general—offer some degree of companionship to their owners. An emotional support dog is different, however, and must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, to help with a diagnosed mental health condition.

Despite this requirement, an emotional support dog is not the same as a service dog used for physical or mental disabilities, physical health conditions, or psychiatric conditions. The latter is recognized by the government under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and allowed in public places, such as restaurants or non-pet-friendly hotels. These dogs are also trained to provide specific support and complete tasks for people with disabilities.

Emotional support dogs aren’t legally protected or permitted in some public places. The ADA also states that ESAs provide emotional comfort but don’t qualify as service animals. ESAs aren’t trained to perform specific tasks, such as alerting people to an owner having a seizure.

Even if an emotional support dog is trained with simple commands like cuddling when the owner is upset, it is not considered a measure to mitigate a specific disability. Many dogs would behave this way on their own.

woman hugging her pet, and with pink scarf on her head due to breast cancer
Image By: FERNANDO MACIAS ROMO, Shutterstock

Do Emotional Support Dogs Help?

An emotional support dog may not be trained to handle a specific mental health condition or provide specific services, but there is evidence that they can be helpful to people.

There’s an overwhelming amount of research on the psychological and physiological benefits of social interactions with pets, including relaxation, alleviating loneliness, reducing anxiety, and normalizing heart rate and blood pressure. In this respect, emotional support animals can be helpful for people struggling with anxiety, depression, or excessive stress that can impact their quality of life.

Do Emotional Support Dogs Require Training?

Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs don’t require any specialized training to be an ESA. Usually, these dogs provide comfort through natural instinct and being attuned to their owners.

Still, ESAs should have training in basic obedience and desensitization to be comfortable in crowded areas and new places, as well as meet new people. Some dogs may be excellent at comforting their owners but lack the temperament to be an ESA.

For example, a dog with anxiety may not be comfortable visiting a lot of new places or meeting new people. Dogs that are overprotective or more reserved may react to stress with aggression, which is a risk to the public.

It is important for dogs to be considered not just for their ability to provide comfort but for their obedience, temperament, and emotional and physical well-being, especially if they’ll be accompanying owners into pet-restricted areas.



Emotional support dogs are intended to provide comfort to people with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. For many, the companionship that dogs naturally provide in times of stress improves the quality of life, which is why they make such good ESAs.


Featured Image Credit: everymmnt, Shutterstock

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