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An emotional support animal (ESA) can be any type of small, domesticated animal that is customarily kept in the home. All kinds of animal companions serve as ESAs, but dogs are perhaps the most popular type of emotional support animal. Dogs and other ESAs can provide therapeutic comfort for those suffering a variety of mental and emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Federal and state laws have requirements for how an owner proves that their dog is an emotional support animal. Under these ESA laws, the owner of an ESA needs a recommendation letter from a licensed mental health professional. In this article, we will explore how you can qualify for an emotional support dog. 

Ask Your Therapist for an ESA Letter

If you’re interested in qualifying for an emotional support dog, the first place to turn for help is your existing therapist. That can be a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, social worker, registered nurse, physician’s assistant or other licensed professional that is familiar with your mental and emotional health. Physicians are also capable of writing ESA letters, but may not be familiar with ESAs or your mental health history. If your current therapist or doctor agrees that you have a condition that qualifies for an emotional support animal, they may write you an ESA letter. The ESA letter will be signed and dated on the professional’s letterhead and contain a “prescription” (but more accurately, a recommendation) for an emotional support animal. 

Once you are in possession of an ESA letter, your dog is an official ESA. You can present this letter to your housing provider to prove that your dog is a proper emotional support animal. It can be difficult to discuss your mental and emotional health with someone, and you may also feel apprehensive about asking whether an emotional support dog is right for you. It’s always best, however, to be open and transparent about the issues you are dealing with when talking to a health care professional and also to suggest solutions that you think may help you. 

Emotional support dogs are used by countless people suffering from mental and emotional disorders. Emotional support dogs can be an essential part of feeling better and can work in conjunction with other modes of treatment such as therapy and medication. Having an emotional support dog by your side can help you face your issues head-on and navigate more comfortably through challenging situations that arise in life. Many therapists understand the benefits of emotional support animals and will write ESA letters for qualifying clients.

            However, some therapists are not familiar with ESAs or ESA rules and do not feel capable of writing ESA letters. These therapists will sometimes refer clients to other professionals that are more knowledgeable about ESAs. You may also be in a position where you don’t have a therapist or can’t afford one. It is also difficult for many people to visit a therapist in person or to fit a meeting into a busy schedule. If you’re having trouble finding a therapist that is qualified to recommend an ESA for you, there are fortunately valuable online resources that can help guide you in the right direction.  

Get Your ESA Letter Online

More people than ever are turning to the convenience of using online therapists. With online technology, it has never been easier to find help from a licensed professional without ever having to leave your home. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an even greater appreciation for these services, which offer a cost-effective way for people to find the help they need. If the idea of seeing a therapist in person makes you anxious or scared, that’s another great reason to explore using an online service.

Some people wonder whether an ESA letter obtained from an online therapist is just as useful as one obtained through meeting with a therapist in person. Fortunately, the answer is yes! The important thing is that the professional is properly qualified to write an ESA letter. In the next section, we will discuss how you can effectively qualify your emotional support dog online. 

How to Find the Right Online Source for an ESA Letter

Qualifying for an ESA letter online can be simple, easy, and effective. However, it’s important that you use a service that follows the right procedures. You should make sure that the ESA service provider you use is pairing you with a licensed mental health professional that is able to write ESA letters. The professional should be aware of ESA rules and be qualified to write ESA letters. The therapist should also be actively licensed for your state. 

When you submit information relating to your need for an ESA, you are divulging sensitive, confidential information. You want to make sure that you’re in trusted hands when you share this information online. Be sure the platform you are using is secure and respects client confidentiality. One of the oldest and leading providers of ESA services is ESA Doctors. They have helped thousands of people find licensed professionals who have helped them qualify for an emotional support dog. If you think an emotional support dog could improve your mental health, don’t hesitate to get the help you deserve

Click here to see if you may qualifying for an ESA Training Your Emotional Support Animal

A popular misconception about emotional support dogs is that they need specialized training. This misunderstanding likely stems from confusing emotional support dogs with service dogs, which are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs do not need any specific training. An emotional support dog provides therapeutic support and comfort to its owner through companionship and affection. Service dogs, on the other hand, undergo highly specialized training to assist with a disability, such as a dog that is trained to protect its owner’s head during a seizure. All emotional support dogs however should undergo basic obedience and behavioral training so they can coexist peacefully with other animals, tenants, and passengers without being a nuisance or danger to anyone. 

Know Your Rights as an Emotional Support Dog Owner

Owners of emotional support dogs have special rights under federal and state laws. For example, under the Fair Housing Act, tenants are allowed to live with their emotional support dogs, even in buildings that prohibit pets. Landlords are also prohibited from imposing fees and deposits for emotional support dogs, even though such fees and deposits may be applicable for regular pets. In addition, because emotional support dogs are not considered regular pets under these rules, they are also exempt from restrictions based on a dog’s breed or weight. 

To take advantage of these benefits, you need to present your landlord with a valid ESA letter. If you’re interested in seeing if you qualify for an ESA letter, ESA Doctors can help connect you to an understanding professional who will treat you with respect and kindness. 

The ADA defines a Service Animal as a dog that is trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. A disability can be a physical disability, but also includes disabilities in the form of a mental illness that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as depression, severe anxiety, or PTSD.

If you believe you would benefit from having a service dog, you may find the information below helpful. This is not limited to seeing-eye dogs as commonly believed!

What are the Service Dog Requirements?

Training a dog to become a service animal is available to individuals that have a disability. If you are interested in having a service dog, below are requirements to be aware of:

A person is eligible for a service dog if they have a physical, emotional or mental disability A service dog must be well mannered at all times A service dog must be trained to perform specific tasks that aid in a disability If it is not obvious what service the dog provides, the handler must be willing to answer two questions about their service dog. Optionally, it can help for service dogs to be clearly identified with accessories.  How does My Dog Become a Service Dog?

We have identified 5 simple steps to help you understand how your dog can become a service dog.

Identify and Understanding What Type of Dog You Have Find a Trainer You Trust or Train Your Dog Yourself! Train Your Service Dog Pass a Public Access Test Consider Service Dog Certification and Registration

Service dogs are an important part of the assistance animal family and serve an important function in our community. Dogs that fulfill trained tasks to assist individuals with disabilities that require their support are allowed access to public places when accompanying their handlers.

Step 1: Identifying and Understanding What Type of Dog You Have

Any dog breed can be suitable for service work. From Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Bully Breeds, Poodles, Huskies, etc. All types of dogs are eligible to become services dogs, each potentially adept at providing a different type of service. It is important to note that under ADA rules an establishment cannot discriminate against a service dog solely because it is a certain breed or size.

The breed of a dog may inform you about some characteristics of the dog and common breed-related instincts so you can watch out for them, but each potential service dog should be assessed for their unique behavioral patterns, strengths, and weaknesses to see if that particular service dog would be appropriate to assist you.

You should also be aware of your dog’s condition to ensure that the age and health of your dog are suitable for the job. It’s important to understand your dog’s condition to prevent adding strain to a service animal’s health and also to ensure the dog is up to the tasks it will be trained for. It is also important to test your dog’s personality type to see if he or she has a good temperament for service work. Dogs who are aggressive or easily scared may not work as service dogs until their public temperament improves. 

Step 2: Find a Trainer You Trust or Train Your Dog Yourself!

People often search for a reputable trainer that they trust to train their service dog. You can either adopt a trained service dog from a reputable trainer or bring your dog to a trainer. However, you are not required to work with a trainer and may train your service dog yourself. Many people are not aware that service animal tasks can be trained in the comfort of their own home!  In the United States, there are no required ADA certifications for service animal training. The community is self-regulated and certain organizations promote minimum standards for training. If you find that you would rather train your dog yourself, you are not only welcome to it, but it can also help increase the bond between you and your service dog. 

Step 3: Training Your Service Dog

Most of your time will be spent here. Putting in enough time to train your future service dog is a crucial step. While the United States has no minimum requirement, international standards suggest approximately 120 hours over six months. Some sources recommend that at least 30 of those hours be time spent in public to help train the dog for moments of distraction and when surprises come their way.  

The most important thing for you to teach your service dog is tasking, or learning the specific skill they will be performing to help assist with your disability. Some tasks may include sensing a medical alert, tactile stimulation during a panic attack, reminding the handler to take their medication, scouting a room for someone with PTSD, or grounding/blocking in public areas.

For additional training support and guides, we recommend Secrets to Dog Training. They provide a simple yet comprehensive guide to dog training so you can successfully train your own service dog*. 

* This is our affiliate disclaimer, in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s guide (FTC), and to avoid any misunderstanding to visitors of our website. We may earn a commission – at no extra cost to you – if you decide to buy any of the products, software, or services we refer to and promote on our website. The opinions expressed are of our own independent reviewers & writing staff, commissioned to provide helpful information & their unbiased opinion.

Step 4: Pass a Public Access Test

In addition to training your dog to perform tasks that assist with your disability, it is important for a service dog to be able to comport itself appropriately in public by passing a public access test. Various organizations set standards for when a service dog is ready to accompany their handler in public. Below is a quick list of a few important criteria for your service dog to pass:

No aggressive behavior towards people and other animals. Cease sniffing behaviors unless released to do so. No solicitations for food or affection while on duty. No over-excitement and hyperactivity in public. Able to tolerate novel sights and sounds in various public settings. No unruly behavior or excessive barking. No relieving themselves in public without being given a specific command.

Once your dog is properly trained, your next step is to decide how you prefer to identify your service dog.

Step 5: Service Dog Certification and Registration

In the United States, service dog certifications and service dog identifications are not a requirement. Staff at a public establishment cannot require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service dog, as a condition for entry.

Certifications, IDs, and registrations do not convey any rights under the ADA and government organizations do not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal. Unfortunately, staff at many public establishments will still insist on IDs or other tangible proof of service dog status.  For convenience, privacy, and to set proper boundaries with strangers, some service dog owners find it helpful to own documents and accessories that can help signal that their dog is a trained service dog. This will help prevent situations where you are met with hostility or confusion when traveling with your service dog. Electing to carry a custom Service Dog ID card and Service Dog Vest may be helpful tools for you and your service dog to navigate public spaces. You may also choose not to carry the ID card and stand your ground on principle when you encounter people ignorant of service dog rights. Under ADA rules, staff at a venue may only ask two questions if it is not apparent what the service dog is trained to do: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

After you verbally confirm that your dog is a trained service dog, reasonable accommodations must legally be made for service dogs. Service dogs provide help for those facing a physical or mental disability so they are granted access into public places such as hotels, restaurants, and malls. It’s important to understand these rules so you know what rights you have as the owner of a service dog, and when third parties are violating your rights. To register your service dog for your own convenience, you may click on the link below.

Unable to train your dog as a service dog?

You may be interested in an Emotional Support Animal instead. ESAs do not require specific training, have access to no-pet apartments, are exempt from breed or weight restrictions. Click here to learn more about ESAs.

If you are looking for a Service Dog for a mental or emotional issue, you may be interested in a Psychiatric Service Dog.

We call them man’s best friend. Dogs, cats, and other animals are pillars for many of our emotional and psychological needs. Why? These furry companions have been around for centuries as humankind’s most loyal and oftentimes closest companions. So it’s not surprising that many of us now rely on emotional support animals (ESAs) for our mental health needs. One of the challenges ESA owners face is misinformation about ESAs. Below is a summary of emotional support animal laws to better understand your rights.

Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Dog

If you’re an individual with an emotional or psychological disability, emotional support animals can be an excellent companion. While emotional support animals are used as part of some treatment plans for mental health, they are not considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As their name indicates, emotional support animals provide support for those suffering from mental or emotional distress. 

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or other psychological and emotional conditions, the law protects your right to have an official emotional support animal. It is important to know that, unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not required to undergo specialized training. A  must be trained to assist with the handler’s disability, but an emotional support animal does its job just by being present. ESAs are also often used in Animal Assisted Therapy sessions to assist with their owners’ psychiatric or intellectual disabilities.  

Emotional Support Animal Access To Public Places

Emotional support animals do not have the same legal rights as service dogs. As mentioned before, service dogs are protected by the ADA. The broad public access rights for assistance animals under the ADA only extend to service dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks to benefit an individual with a disability. 

Due to this distinction, your emotional support animal is not protected by the ADA. Service dogs are allowed access to all public places such as stores, movie theaters, hospitals, and restaurants. On the other hand, emotional support animals are allowed access only to residences (including buildings with no-pet policies) and on select airlines. Please keep in mind that although ESAs do not need any special training, they still need to be well behaved and should have the ability to follow basic commands. 

What Laws Protect Emotional Support Animals?

Although emotional support animals do not have the same access rights as service dogs under ADA, they are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). If you meet the criteria for ESA qualification under the FHA, you are entitled to live with your emotional support animal free of charge and deposits, even if your building doesn’t allow pets. The FHA also prevents housing providers from imposing breed and weight restrictions on your ESA. Many state laws mostly mirror the FHA, which provides additional protection against discrimination for ESA owners. Housing providers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for ESA owners so they can have equal opportunity to use and enjoy their residence. 

Until recently, emotional support animals also enjoyed the right to fly with their ESA in the cabin under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). However, due to regulatory changes that went into effect in January 2021, airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals (although a few airlines still have programs to allow them). However, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are still allowed to fly on planes, free of charge. A PSD is a type of service dog that performs tasks relating to an owner’s psychological or intellectual disability. Under the ADA and ACAA, PSDs have the same rights as service dogs that perform tasks for the physically disabled. To learn more about how to fly with a psychiatric service dog, please click on this link for a complete guide

How Do I Make My Pet Into a Legitimate Emotional Support Animal?

To qualify for an emotional support animal, you need to obtain an ESA letter from a licensed healthcare professional, such as a therapist. The licensed healthcare professional will assess whether you have a qualifying condition and whether an ESA would help improve symptoms of your condition. Any licensed healthcare professional can issue an ESA letter, but many are not aware of the benefits of ESAs or familiar with how to write an ESA letter. 

If your current health care provider is unfamiliar with ESAs (or is unwilling to issue an ESA letter), or if you don’t have anyone you’re currently seeing, ESA Doctors can help. ESA Doctors is a caring and reputable service that has operated since 2015 and can connect you to a licensed ESA specialist. Just click on the link below to get started.