These 5 Dog Breeds Make the Best Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support dogs can have a tremendous impact on your life and mental well being, but not all breeds are equally suited to the role.

Published June 13, 2023
Young woman relaxing with her dog outside

Dogs are deeply empathetic, loving animals who just get us. If you have ever experienced any sort of mental health condition and you have dogs, you know how much their support can mean. Dogs offer company without judgement and they truly become your best friend. While any dog with the right temperament can serve as an emotional support animal, certain breeds naturally excel in this role.

1. Labrador Retriever

At top the list for their affectionate nature, Labrador Retrievers are intelligent and adaptable. Their eagerness to please, coupled with their ability to bond quickly with their human companions, makes them an excellent choice for providing emotional support. Whether it's their a calming presence or encouraging outdoor activity with their love for play, labs contribute greatly to emotional well-being.

Chocolate labrador on the couch looking up

Why they are great for emotional support: Labs are good-natured and outgoing dogs who can raise your spirits without even trying. They are true companions, giving as much as they take in a relationship, and they give their support with no conditions attached. Labs are great at just being there or you, and are equally happy out playing on a good day, or curled up with you on a bad one.

Need to Know

Labs are often used in various working roles, such as guide dogs for the blind, therapy dogs, and search and rescue dogs, because they are so easy to train and they intuit their owner's needs.

2. Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are well known for their friendly and tolerant attitude, as well as their high level of empathy. They are intelligent, versatile, and love to work - traits that make them successful guide and service dogs, as well. Their naturally patient and gentle nature makes them a comforting presence for those coping with emotional challenges.

Golden Retriever with head in person's lap.

Why they are great for emotional support: Golden Retrievers are renowned for their friendly and tolerant attitudes, making them one of the most beloved dog breeds around the world. Goldens are floofy love machines. Once you've had a cuddle with one, you know their support comes from a deep, instinctual level. They can sense you're feelings and always seem to know when to be there for you.

3. Poodle

Don't let their sophisticated looks fool you. Poodles are highly intelligent, intuitive, and easily trained. There are three sizes, including toy, miniature, and standard, and all can be excellent emotional support animals. Poodles are hypoallergenic, as well, making them a good choice for people with allergies.

Two standard poodles sitting on road

Why they are great for emotional support: Poodles are sociable dogs that thrive in human company. Members of the breed have an alert, knowing empathy to them. They seem to understand their people on a deeper level, almost as though they're reading your mind. Poodles are exceptionally easy to bond with, making them superstars when it comes to emotional support.

4. Bichon Frise

The Bichon Frise is a cheerful, small breed that loves to be the center of attention. Members of this breed can be highly sensitive, to the point that some might even seem nervous. Don't underestimate the Bichon's profound level of empathy or chalk it up to anxiety. Their friendly nature and love for companionship make them great emotional support animals.

Bichon Frise wants up on the bed.

Why they are great for emotional support: The Bichon Frise is well-known for its cheerful, friendly, and affectionate disposition. They are stand-outs when it comes to their ability to bond with their people in a short amount of time. An emotional support Bichon just seems to get you. They intuitively know when to be there for you.

Need to Know

The Bichon Frise is hypoallergenic, making them suitable for people with allergies. They're also relatively low maintenance, except they do need a good amount of attention.

5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

This small, affectionate breed is known for its unwavering loyalty to its owners. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel thrives on close companionship and has a calm temperament that can be very soothing. They love to cuddle, making them great lap dogs and fantastic for emotional support roles.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy

Why they are great for emotional support: Cavaliers are deeply empathetic snuggle machines who are great at figuring out when you need a boost and lifting your spirits. All of the dogs on this list have a high level of emotional intelligence, but most Cavaliers are also great at anticipating how their people are going to feel later, like they can tell the weather is going to change or something.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a type of assistance animal that provides comfort and support to individuals dealing with mental or emotional health issues. Emotional support animals are often a critical part of a person's treatment plan, offering companionship and a calming presence to help alleviate symptoms of various conditions:

  • General to severe anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Panic disorders
  • Social anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Unlike service animals, ESAs are not necessarily trained to perform specific tasks or assist with disabilities. Their primary role is to offer emotional stability and unconditional affection.

Emotional Support Dogs Versus Service Dogs

Service dogs and emotional support dogs both play significant roles in aiding people with various needs, but they serve distinctly different functions and have different legal classifications.

Service Dogs: These animals have legal protection in public places. A service dog is trained specifically to perform tasks that assist with a disability.

This could include guiding a visually impaired person, alerting a deaf person to sounds, detecting the onset of a seizure, or performing other specific tasks related to a physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disability. Because of their training and the essential tasks they perform, service dogs are granted access to most public places under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Emotional Support Dogs: On the other hand, emotional support dogs are serving in a general role as emotional support animals. We know how vital this service can be to you, but because mental health conditions don't receive the same protections under the law as many other physical conditions do, emotional support dogs aren't allowed to go with you everywhere in public.

While they do not have the same extensive public access rights as service dogs, they are protected under federal law in terms of housing through the Fair Housing Act. Air travel is another matter, and there are more restrictions on emotional support animals on planes. However, some airlines do still accommodate emotional support dogs, so check with your carrier at least 48 hours before flying.

What Makes a Dog Breed a Good Fit For An Emotional Support Role?

The five breeds we discussed above are standouts, but other breeds are great in emotional support roles, too. When considering a dog breed for an emotional support role, there are several key traits to look for:

  • Temperament: A good emotional support dog should have a calm, gentle, and patient temperament. They should be able to handle potentially stressful situations without becoming anxious or overly excited. They should also have a natural inclination to seek out and enjoy human companionship.
  • Empathy: Some dog breeds seem to be more intuitive or empathetic towards human emotions than others. These breeds might be especially attuned to changes in their owner's mood or behavior, making them more capable of providing comfort and support during emotional highs and lows.
  • Trainability: Dogs that are easily trainable make good emotional support animals, as they can be taught to behave appropriately in various environments, such as public spaces or around other people and animals.
  • Size: Depending on the needs and lifestyle of the individual, the size of the dog could be an important factor. Smaller breeds might be a good fit for someone living in an apartment or who can't provide extensive exercise, while larger breeds might be more suitable for someone with more space and the ability to provide regular physical activity.
  • Energy Level: Breeds with lower energy levels might be a good fit for the role of an emotional support animal, as they're often content to relax and provide companionship. High-energy breeds might be more challenging, as they require more exercise and mental stimulation.
  • Health: Generally, breeds known for their good health are more suitable as emotional support animals, as managing a dog's chronic or severe health conditions could add extra stress.
  • Longevity: Breeds that have a long lifespan can provide many years of companionship and support.

Dog Breeds That Don't Make Good Emotional Support Animals

While any dog breed can potentially serve as an emotional support animal depending on the individual dog's temperament, there are certain breeds that may not be ideal for this role due to their typical breed characteristics. It's important to remember that this is not an absolute rule; individual dogs of any breed can still be great, even if the breed overall doesn't stand out for emotional support.

Siberian husky sitting on the grass in the park and howling with his owner
  • Siberian Husky: While Huskies are intelligent and friendly, they can also be quite independent and require significant amounts of exercise and mental stimulation, which could be challenging for someone needing an ESA.
  • Akita: Akitas are known for their loyalty and can be affectionate with family members, but they also tend to be aloof and can be wary of strangers, which might not be ideal in an ESA.
  • Alaskan Malamute: Like the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamutes require a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. They are also known for their strong will and independence.
  • Weimaraner: Weimaraners are active and intelligent dogs, but they also tend to suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for long periods, which could be problematic for someone in need of an ESA.
  • Jack Russell Terrier: Jack Russells are full of energy and require lots of exercise and mental stimulation. They can be quite intense and are not typically known for their calming influence.
  • Australian Shepherd: While these dogs are intelligent and hardworking, their high energy levels and need for continuous mental and physical stimulation may not make them the best choice for someone looking for a calm, comforting presence.
  • Dalmatian: Dalmatians are high-energy dogs who were bred to run for miles. They require extensive exercise and can often be quite headstrong.
  • Chihuahua: While Chihuahuas can form strong bonds with their owners, they can also be quite nervous and prone to barking, which may not be the ideal traits for an ESA.

Remember, each dog is an individual, and breed alone does not guarantee any specific temperament or behavior traits. Training, socialization, and the dog's individual personality also play major roles in determining whether a dog will make a good emotional support animal.

Quick Tip

Spend time with a potential ESA and consult with a mental health professional before deciding.

Emotional Support Animals Are Not Certified

There is no way for your dog to be officially recognized as an emotional support animal (at least in terms of government certification), other than to have a letter from a licensed mental health professional that clearly states the owner needs an emotional support animal. Even in these cases, public areas still may not allow your dog to enter the premises.

Choosing the Right Breed for Emotional Support

Selecting the right emotional support dog involves careful consideration of both the dog's characteristics and your personal needs. You should look for a breed and individual dog with a temperament that is calm, gentle, and naturally empathetic, as these traits can help provide emotional stability and comfort. Also crucial is choosing a dog whose energy level, size, and general care requirements align well with your lifestyle, ensuring that the relationship will be beneficial and manageable for both you and the dog.

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These 5 Dog Breeds Make the Best Emotional Support Animals