How to Train and Certify an Emotional Support Dog

Disclaimer: The information below is provided for informational purposes only. We are not lawyers and cannot provide legal advice. Claiming a pet is an emotional support animal or therapy animal could have legal consequences. Please consult an attorney.

Have you found yourself confused by the so-called process of training an emotional support dog and having it certified?  Well, the good news is that there are actually no training or certification requirements for an emotional support animal.

The Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal

It is important first and foremost to note the distinction between emotional support animals (“ESA’s”) and service animals.  Emotional support animals do not require any type of training or certification.  And unlike service animals, you do not have a right to have emotional support animals in places of public accommodation, like restaurants and hotels.  You do, however, have a right to an emotional support animal in most housing.

How to Have an Emotional Support Dog in a Housing Complex

Even though there are no certification requirements for an emotional support animal, it is incredibly helpful to obtain a letter from a treatment provider – typically a mental health professional, but can also be medical – if you plan to live with an emotional support animal outside of a privately owned home.  If you want to have an ESA in your apartment, you are going to want a letter from your treatment provider.

In the letter, your treatment provider will need to explain that you have a qualifying disability under the Fair Housing Act and that your emotional support animal ameliorates the symptoms of your disability.  Finally, your treatment provider will need to establish a nexus between your disability and your disability-related need to having an ESA live in your home.

It is important to note that there are scam websites out there claiming to provide registration of an ESA for an exorbitant price. You should never have to pay anyone for an ESA letter.  If you are paying for it, then it is much harder to explain how it is legitimate.  Since you must have a qualifying disability to have an emotional support animal, you should be able to go to your treatment provider and obtain a letter from them, and your treatment provider should not be charging you a fee.

Disabilities That Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog

One in five people experience mental illness of some variety in their lives, some transient and some more permanent. Emotional support animals have been proven to improve the quality of life for many people who live with these disabilities, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Severe phobias
  • Anxiety attacks and panic attacks

However, there is no exhaustive list of disabilities that qualify for an emotional support animal.  In a similar vein, simply suffering from anxiety may not qualify you as disabled under the particular legal standards that would allow you to have an ESA in your housing.  You need to qualify as disabled under the Fair Housing Act, which may have different requirements than those that led to your diagnosis by a treatment provider.

While medication is essential for many individuals, sometimes the relief that an emotional support animal provides can allow their owners to reduce or eliminate the need for some medications. However, you should never stop taking a medication without consulting your treatment provider.

Most Common Emotional Support Animal Dog Breeds

Depending on your needs, abilities, and living situation, there are many possibilities when it comes to an emotional support dog. While you can have an ESA of any breed, some of the more common emotional support dogs are from the following breeds:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Poodle
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Corgie
  • Golden Retriever
  • Bulldog
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Beagle
  • Pomeranian
  • Pug

Obtaining an Emotional Support Dog

Unlike specially trained support dogs (and miniature horses) called service animals, emotional support dogs can be found virtually anywhere. Since it isn’t required that they be trained or certified, any animal that ameliorates the effects of your disability or disabilities can be considered an ESA.  That means that you can get your emotional support dog from a rescuer or animal shelter, a reputable breeder, or a friend.

Consider animals that are friendly and calm and that you can manage within your lifestyle. It’s a good idea to visit and spend time with the animal you are considering to bring into your life as an ESA to make certain you find the animal that is right for your life.

Emotional Support Dog Training Requirements

The requirements for an emotional support dog’s training are quite simple: there are none.  Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not require any training.

Emotional Support Dogs and Vests

Emotional support animals are not required to wear a special vest declaring their function.

Options for Covering the Cost of an Emotional Support Dog

As discussed earlier, emotional support animals are different from service animals – service animals require extensive and special training before they are ever transferred to the individual’s custody, which can be costly.  Luckily, this is not the case for emotional support animals.

However, because both service and emotional support animals are not pets, you cannot be charged a pet fee or any special type of deposit for having either a service or emotional support animal in your housing.

Can Only Dogs Be Emotional Support Animals?

All domesticated animals that can be kept as pets can qualify as emotional support animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, ferrets, mini-pigs, and so on. As long as they help manage your disabilities, they can qualify as your emotional support animal.

FAQ

How do you qualify for an emotional support animal?

If you have a qualifying disability under the law, you qualify to have an emotional support animal.  You would need a diagnosis from your treatment provider explaining that your diagnosis meet the legal criteria, and also explaining how your ESA helps you manage your disability, such as by reducing the severity of its symptoms.

How much does an emotional support dog cost?

The exact cost depends on whether you rescue the animal or purchase it from a breeder.  Since there are no training or certification requirements, the costs are the same for obtaining an ESA as they are for adopting a pet.

Are emotional support dogs allowed in schools?

While service animals for students with disabilities are permitted in schools, the same is not true for other animals. Emotional support dogs and therapy animals are typically not allowed.