How to Help a Dog Become an Emotional Support Animal

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Opinion piece:

Life is full of ups and downs. Family, society, workplace are sources of pressure. For some people, the pressure becomes unbearable, and they end up with one emotional disorder or the other. If you are one of these persons, an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) would be good go-to therapy. In no time, you will notice the difference.

An ESA dog is an animal that provides emotional support to relieve symptoms of a psychological disorder. Of all the pet animals you can think of, a dog would make the best ESA. Dogs, by nature, are good companions; they will never leave you and hold nothing against you. 

An ESA dog is very different from a service dog. Instead of providing a service, it is for offering emotional support. It sounds quite impossible, right? Continue reading to know ways of helping your dog to be the best ESA and some dog requirements needed.

Get an ESA Letter

There is no specialized training for an ESA dog. Therefore, your dog qualifies as an ESA animal as long it has the right temperament and does not cause a disturbance. For your dog to be recognized as an ESA animal, you need to obtain an ESA letter from a mental health professional doctor. This letter merely states that you need the dog’s support to lead a normal life.

Improving Your Dog

Step 1 – Find Your Dog

Not all dogs qualify to be emotional support animals; normally, calm and laid back are the best. If you have one of these, luck is on your side. If you do not, you may want to go out and adopt one. There are some recommended breeds worth considering. 

Look around pet homes for a Poodle, Bulldog, Pekingese, or a Basset Hound. In case you find a Great Dane, Bichon Frise, or Labrador Retriever, take it. Generally, pick a dog breed that is easy to groom, is friendly and social to people and other animals.

To make the whole training easy, select a dog that is still in its puppy stage. A younger dog can easily set lifelong habits.

Step 2 – Teach Basic Obedience

The easiest way to begin training your newly acquired dog to provide emotional support is by first teaching him/her basic obedience commands. Teach the puppy how to listen to and obey instructions. Basic instructions you can start with include: “sit”, “heel”, “down” and “stay”. 

Use a calm voice and be sure to use a release command such as “good” to signal the dog at the end of the pose. You can pick one source from plenty on the website about obedience training for dogs.

Obedience training will improve your relationship with the dog while also improving loyalty and companionship. The dog will also improve life skills and social awareness.

Step 3 – The Three D-Words Are Important

Like you would train any other dog, the three D’s are equally important in improving an emotional support dog. These D’s are Duration, Distance, and Distractions. The D’s serve as an important introduction into the training program with the simple obedience commands.

Duration: position the dog in the pose you desire and let it stay there for a few minutes. When the few seconds elapse, use your preferred release word to relieve the dog. Continue to gradually up the time the dog stays in the pose until the pet can successfully hold the command on its own.

Distance: move a few steps away from the dog to allow for some level of independence. Make sure to return to the initial position you were before releasing the dog of its posture.

Distractions:  once you are sure the dog can stay in a certain position for a given period, it is time to introduce some distractions. The distractions should mimic real-life occurrences. This way, the ESA dog will know how to respond to your voice at a given time.

Step 4 – Deep Pressure Training

Once the dog has grasped a good response to your instructions, you can train it to give you the appropriate therapy that you need. Deep Pressure Therapy is the best and easiest way that the dog can give you emotional relief. 

DPT teaches the dog to apply gentle pressure on your chest. You should teach the dog to correctly reduce the duration of an anxiety, stress, or autism attack.

Since you are training a puppy, teach her to lay its body on your chest. As she grows and becomes bigger, you should train her to put her head or paws across your laps.

Keep in mind that training a dog for DPT can take a long time. The dog will not learn overnight. You need to exercise a lot of patience. However, there is room for making the process shorter by training the dog that it is okay to climb the sofa sometimes. 

Once the emotional support dog learns to get up and down the sofa, you can start to train about paws and head on your lap.

Step 5 – Imitate Real Life Situations

Your dog mastering basic commands and DPT while in the house is not enough. The fact is something outside of your home may trigger a mental disorder attack. You can train your emotional support buddy in situations that mimic the real-life out there. Try to recreate physical signs that you know are likely to trigger an attack.


Although it is not a necessary legal requirement, it is good to get an ESA dog certification. This makes it easy for you to be with your dog everywhere you go. You can also have the dog spayed or neutered to get rid of aggressive behaviors associated with mating.

What Kind of Emotional Support Can an ESD Provide?

  • Reduces stress
  • Reduces feelings of isolation
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Distracts you from negative thoughts 
  • Provides a routine that keeps you active

Final Words

Having a dog around the house can provide good company. However, if you are dealing with a more serious mental disorder, training your dog to give you the necessary emotional support can go a long way in relieving your symptoms. ESDs are a good therapy source for mental problems.

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