Emotional support animals (ESA) are not considered service animals (like, for instance, guide dogs for the blind) under the American Disabilities Act (ADA) since they lack special training. Nevertheless, they can do wonderful things for people struggling with conditions like anxiety, PTSD, or autism, to name a few. While emotional support turkeys are not unheard of, dogs are the ideal ESAs because they are affectionate, adaptable, and trainable. As a dog with a job, an ESA dog needs to be friendly, loving, and highly intelligent. Not all breeds meet the ESA requirements. Of course all dogs love their owners, but some are too independent, nervous, or stubborn to provide cuddles when needed or help their owner meet new people. So which breeds should you consider for a canine therapist? StudyFinds consulted the experts to create a list of the best dogs for emotional support.
It turns out that more people may benefit from an emotional support pup than you might think. Anxiety is on the rise among Americans. According to a survey, a shocking one in five respondents say they feel anxious so often that they believe they are dealing with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. But that’s not all: the average American experiences five anxious moments every day. And according to a concerning report, 2.6 million American children — more than one in every 20 — were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression between 2011 and 2012. The report further reveals that anxiety in children and adolescents increased in the United States, while depression diagnoses have remained at the same (nevertheless concerning) levels.
The good news: Researchers at the University of Florida confirm what dog owners have always known — dogs are an excellent anxiety “remedy.” “Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out,” says Darlene Kertes, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. “Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support.” And yes, “Dr. Dog” helps adults as well. Researchers from Washington State University say support dogs can seriously help college students find relief from stress and anxiety.
If you think a dog is just what you or a loved one need to cope better, you will need an ESA letter from a practicing Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP). This will protect your ESA in case your home doesn’t allow pets. Another step is of course picking the right dog. For this purpose, StudyFinds compared information from ten expert websites to build our list of the top five dogs for emotional support (of course mutts with the same traits as the top 5 “work” just as well!). Do you have any ESA experiences you’d like to share? Please let us know in the comments!
The List: Best Dogs for Emotional Support, According to Experts
1. Tie: Labrador Retriever AND Golden Retriever
Since both breeds are frequently used as service dogs, seeing them at the top of our list comes as no surprise. Ten out of ten experts recommend both breeds as emotional support dogs. “The Labrador Retriever is often considered to be a great emotional support dog. Known for their happy, laid-back nature, they are one of the most popular pet breeds for a reason. They make excellent family dogs and can provide emotional support for children and adults alike,” writes Barkbus.
“It should be no surprise to anyone to see our beloved Labradors topping the list,” says LabradorTrainingHQ about their favorite support dog breed. “They are at the top of most lists of working dogs. Intelligent, gentle, and loving, they are ideal emotional support animals.” Their second pick, golden retrievers, are “very similar to Labrador Retrievers in their temperament, which means they too are ideal to act as Emotional Support Animals, as well as a variety of other working roles.”
“These intelligent, confident and incredibly friendly dogs provide much support to their owners and are a true family favorite,” say experts from Country Living. “Their affectionate nature and soft coats make them a therapeutic four-legged friend. Similarly to Labradors, they have long been fantastic therapy dogs, providing emotional support to their owners.” Please note that both breeds are active dogs that need plenty of exercise!
2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is as sweet and friendly as a retriever but needs less exercise and is better suited to sit on your lap than our number ones. They are Reader’s Digest‘s top pick for an ESA since they “were initially created to be companions dogs, so their genetics run deep as warm-hearted comforters. They are undeniably cute, well-mannered, and petite in size, making them great apartment dogs.”
And they are sooo snuggly. According to The Spruce, “the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is like a living stuffed animal. These dogs love to cuddle and typically have a friendly temperament. They’re often referred to as the ‘comforter spaniel.’ They’re usually just as happy to cozy up with their favorite humans as they are to join them for a pleasant walk.”
PetHelpful even claims that “the King Charles spaniel was originally bred as a therapy dog, and they continue to excel at helping and supporting the emotional needs of humans,” Further, “the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is easy to train because this breed is eager to please its owner.”
The late Queen was onto something! “Corgis are happy, playful, easy-going dogs, making them a great choice for an emotional support dog,” says Reader’s Digest‘s expert. “Watching a Corgi play can bring entertainment and joy to anyone. Seeing them zip around with their short legs and rotund hind ends can easily bring a smile to your face.”
ESA Doctors has a similar sounding view of the corgi: “Playful and affectionate, Corgis are a mix of obedient and adventurous. They’re very much like an adorable toddler, full of laughs and eager to learn about the world. Because of their size and personality, Corgis make excellent emotional support animals. They’re loyal to their owners and are even-tempered, rarely whining or growling. Originally bred to be herd dogs, Corgis are also known for being easy to train.”
While The Spruce agrees with this assessment and add an important consideration: “Corgis are fairly active dogs, so they’re not right for every condition. They can be suitable for owners who prefer to take their dogs with them when out and about, as that will help channel the corgi’s energy.”
If regular trips to the groomer aren’t a dealbreaker, the sensitive poodle is a wonderful ESA. “Poodles are an incredibly smart breed that bond closely with their owner. Their high level of intelligence means they’re very easy to train, a valuable quality in an ESA,” states Canine Styles.
“Poodles get a reputation as being a bit snobby and high maintenance thanks to Hollywood, but they are, in fact, one of the most intelligent and affectionate dog breeds,” explains LabradorTrainingHQ. “They are also very good at reading people and picking up on their emotions. […] However, they do require a good amount of grooming as their coats can easily become knotted and […] need to be trimmed regularly.”
An additional benefit of the breed is that “poodles come in three sizes, toy, miniature, and standard (the largest size),” writes PetHelpful. “The AKC recognizes all three sizes, although there are some regional kennel clubs with their own standards for each type. Although there are many varieties of poodles, including ones with long coats or short coats, all types of poodles have curly hair.”
5. Yorkshire Terrier
These guys come in only one size, and that’s lap size. “Yorkies are the sweetest of the sweet lap dogs. Tiny little things, they don’t require a huge amount of space or exercise, which makes them a great choice for owners who live in apartments and can’t do lots of exercise to keep their pup healthy,” says Canine Styles.
Small size can be a big plus for an ESA: “In addition to being one of the cutest lap dogs, the Yorkie is a blue-chip candidate as an emotional support dog for many reasons. For starters, Yorkies are portable. They’re petite puptarts at just five to seven pounds and eight inches tall — perfect for when you need a spunky and confident sidekick to help you navigate social situations that make you feel uneasy.”
The Spruce provides the final verdict on the Yorkie as an ESA: “What Yorkies lack in size they make up for in confidence and affection. They expect lots of attention, but they give it back tenfold. They’re easy to travel with, which is good for people who require their emotional support animal to accompany them on trips. And they tend to adapt well to change.”
You might also like:
- Best Dog Breeds For Families
- Best Dog Breeds For Seniors
- Best Hypoallergenic Dog Breeds
- Best Dog Breeds For First-Time Owners
- Reader’s Digest
- The Spruce
- Canine Styles
- Fast ESA Letter
- ESA Doctors
- Country Living
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This post may contain affiliate links.