How to Make My Dog an Emotional Support Dog
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or another mental illness, one of the treatment options your medical provider might discuss with you is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). If you already own a dog, you’re one step ahead—you can have your dog classified as an Emotional Support Dog in a few easy steps!
I don’t currently have a dog. How do I find one to serve as my Emotional Support Dog?
Rescue dogs are perfect ESAs! You can visit your local animal shelter to find a dog that suits your needs. Make sure you study up on what to know before getting a dog, plus keep some of these things in mind as you search for the perfect companion:
- Your home: What type of home do you live in? Depending on the size of your home, if you have a yard or stairs or if you have neighbors, you will want to use that to gauge the kind of dog you get. If you live in an apartment, you might want to find a smaller dog, but if you live somewhere with a large, fenced-in yard, a larger dog will serve you well.
- Your needs: Dogs are an investment—while they are great companions and work wonders for PTSD, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, they still require care and attention. They can’t speak for themselves, so you have to feed them, bathe them, and take them on walks. You’ll want to fully consider your needs and whether or not you can care for one. Your therapist or psychiatrist can also help you determine this, so make sure you chat with them about it!
Is there a certification process?
No! A dog does not need to be “certified” or even “registered” to receive ESA status. In fact, all you need for your dog to be considered an ESA is an official letter from a licensed mental health professional—also known as an LMHP—discussing how your mental illness creates a disability for you. Their letter should recommend an ESA to alleviate any symptoms that come with your mental illness.
An ESA is not the same as a Service Dog—Service Dogs go through a training process that does certify them. Many landlords, airlines, and businesses misconstrue the two. If you think you’re in need of a service dog, you should talk with your psychiatrist. They will be able to better guide you as to whether or not you need a service dog and not an ESA.
- An important distinction between ESAs and Service Dogs is that Service Dogs typically have more privileges than ESAs do. They are usually allowed in movie theaters, courtrooms, and restaurants. Service Dogs do more than keep people calm and grounded, but that doesn’t invalidate the purpose of ESAs. They just have different roles which then gives them different privileges. If you’re unsure whether a place allows ESAs, you should call them before you go.
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How do I let people know my dog is an ESA?
That’s a great question! If ESAs don’t need registration or certification, then how do you let people know they provide you with emotional support? Here are a couple of ideas:
- Their dog tag: Make sure they have a personalized dog tag that details their information. The beauty of personalized tags means that you can place any information about your dog you want on it. Whether it’s your dog’s name, microchip and vaccination status, or your contact information, there are lots of things you can place on your dog’s tag. You’ll want to go with one that’s made of a durable material—a silicone dog tag is perfect because they’re easy to clean and don’t rust like metal. Simply attach them to your dog’s collar. Plus, our silicone tags come in a variety of designs you are sure to love.
- Carry your LMHP letter: Get a small card carrier and fold the note up, then place in it the letter your LMHP wrote to designate your ESA needs. Make sure it goes with you wherever you and your dog go. That way, when someone asks for proof, you can show them the letter. While your dog doesn’t need a certification, having the letter on hand is a great way to make it easy for you to show proof that your dog is an ESA.
Having an ESA is great if you suffer from anxiety, PTSD, or depression. Talk with your LMHP about designating your dog as an ESA, or adopt one from a shelter!