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If you have mental struggles that prevent you from living your life fully, you may find that having an emotional support animal (ESA) helps you to feel almost “normal.” An increasing number of Americans are turning to ESAs for guidance and support, yet the process isn’t always clear-cut. For example, new puppy owners may feel a little lost on which steps to take so that your puppy can eventually fill the role of ESA.
One of the first considerations when helping your puppy become a well-equipped ESA involves your qualifications as a patient. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), “ESAs legally must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional like a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.” Once you have a properly formatted prescription letter in hand, you’re well on your way to helping your puppy become an ESA.
Certification is absolutely vital if you hope to reap all of the benefits of ESA assistance. For instance, ESAs (as well as service animals such as seeing-eye dogs) are allowed to live in housing that’s otherwise pet-free, in accordance with the Fair Housing Act. In addition, your ESA can also accompany you in the cabin when traveling via airplane, a privilege not afforded to pets and companion animals.
Of course, legal ESA certification is just the beginning. Your puppy should also be well-trained, and you should take extra precautions to keep your pup safe and happy over the long-term.
ESA Training Basics
Throughout history, humans bred dogs to perform certain tasks, such as herding and protection. Because of varied traits inherent in particular breeds, therefore, some dogs are better suited for an emotional support role than other breeds. For example, Labrador retrievers, poodles, corgis, and pugs rank among the top 10 ESA dog breeds.
These breeds stand out from other dogs primarily due to their loyal temperaments and overall trainability. And when your pup is a prospective ESA, training is paramount to the process. While official training isn’t expected for ESAs, your support animal must not become a nuisance in public. Further, dogs providing emotional support should at least understand basic commands such as sit, stay, and come.
Expect the Unexpected
It’s important to remember that even the most well-trained dogs can make mistakes. Dogs will be dogs, and your ESA may become distracted by a squirrel or another dog. In these instances, the desire to play may overwhelm your pup, causing him or her to briefly abandon their ESA duties.
The possibility of a playtime accident is just one of the reasons why you should keep your pup protected at all times. Thus, when your pup has a job to do, such as providing emotional support, make sure to invest in pet insurance. Along with covering costs of accidents and injuries, pet insurance typically also covers additional puppy-related expenses such as vaccines, as well as spaying and neutering procedures.
Keeping Your ESA Safe and Happy
And make no mistake, getting your puppy spayed or neutered allows them to better fill their role as a certified ESA. Along with avoiding the possibility of an unexpected litter, spaying (for females) or neutering (for males) may even improve your pup’s temperament and overall behavior. Generally speaking, the procedure, also known as “fixing,” should only be performed after your puppy reaches 6 months of age.
Fixing your puppy is one way to ensure their prolonged safety and happiness, yet there are many more. Depending on your living situation, keeping your ESA puppy happy may look different than for your friends or loved ones who also have an ESA. For instance, apartment living means that your pup won’t have much space to get its needed daily exercise.
In both a puppy’s basic command training stage and afterward, apartment dwellers should set aside at least 30 minutes per day for exercise. You could take your pup for a quick stroll around the block, or visit a dog park where he or she can exercise and socialize with other pups. Keep in mind that many municipal dog parks have age restrictions in place, and young pups may not be allowed.
Your Puppy’s Job as an ESA
For those with serious mental health issues, the training and exercise requirements of an emotional support dog may seem daunting. Yet the benefits of integrating an ESA into your daily life are likely to outweigh the inherent work of pet ownership.
Many of those living with emotional or mental health disorders find that an integrative care approach provides the most profound symptom relief, compared to other treatment methods. The integrative care model emphasizes personalized, holistic care and an ESA can be an essential aspect of your own integrative care plan. Your ESA pup can give you the emotional support you need to get through difficult days, while also helping you to cultivate a more active lifestyle. As such, making your puppy an ESA is a win-win for all parties involved, from you and your pup to your primary care provider. To get started, communicate your intentions to a mental health professional who can write you an ESA certification letter, and then prepare your pup for his or her new role. As you train your pup to become an ESA, consider harness training alongside housetraining and the teaching of basic commands. A fully supportive ESA is one that is always by your side and ready to work.