For centuries, individuals all over the world have found emotional and mental support from dogs.  You know if you have a dog how much calmer you feel after seeing your puppy or adult dog at the end of a very stressful day and how much it can make you smile.

Most people, at some point in their lives, have experienced how much comfort a dog can provide to them.  However, some individuals really need to have support from a dog just to simply get through the day.  In the U.S., an emotional support dog (ESD) is considered to be an animal that provides a person, who has one or several disabilities, positive benefits.  These emotional, physical and mental disabilities have to be prescribed by a doctor in order for the law to recognize the emotional support dog.

If you are not aware of all the mental health benefits that emotional support dogs can offer, keep reading to learn more about what the most important advantages are.  

Less Loneliness

It can be quite isolating trying to deal with cognitive impairments or mental illness.  Frequently, individuals who are dealing with these kinds of problems have difficulty with functioning in social settings and in public.  They end up isolating themselves, given how insecure and uncomfortable they feel.  Unfortunately, their mental health symptoms are exacerbated by isolation, which results in the cycle continuing.  

It has been proven that these dangerous feelings of isolation and loneliness are reduced when an individual has an emotional support dog.  First of all, a dog provides wonderful companionship.  The person no longer is forced to get through the day completely alone, and it is very comforting to have a well-trained dog in their presence.    

Having a dog also increases opportunities for socialization. For example, dogs love going on walks and the dog owner is then able to interact with other individuals visiting a park or going on a walk.  It helps a person make meaningful connections with other people and continue to develop their social skills at the same time.

Calming Effects

Panic attacks are one of the more common complaints heard from individuals who struggle to deal with mental instability.  It is very easy to panic when you don’t feel you can trust your very own brain and you are trying to cope with severe anxiety.  This anxiety, over time, can be quite debilitating.  

When you have an emotional support dog nearby it can help to counteract the effects that anxiety produces.  Numerous studies have shown that when an individual interacts with a trusted dog that stress levels decrease.  Anxiety lessens when stress levels are reduced, which has numerous mental and physical benefits.

Physical Benefits

Although there are numerous mental health benefits to having an ESD, there are great physical benefits as well.  Having a dog can provide individuals who are struggling with an illness to have a reason for getting up and exercising. So whether it is just getting out in the backyard to play or taking a walk around the neighborhood, being active and getting outdoors has positive physical and mental effects.     

Whenever there is a decrease in mental symptoms like anxiety and stress, the body responds in a positive way.  So many parts of your body are affected by poor mental health, but for many of the more common problems, having an emotional support dog can offer an effective solution.  

The following are some of the more positive physical effects that are provided by having an ESD:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Lower trigyceride levels
  • Increased physical activity

Where To Begin

If you think that someone you love or yourself could benefit from having an emotional support dog, the best place to start is to begin to gather information.

First of all, remember that an individual must have a verifiable and documented disability to receive accommodation to get an emotional support dog. This determination must be made by a medical professional.  In the U.S., federal law is what provides the definitions for disabilities, so you are required to fit those criteria in order to get this type of protection.  Although numerous individuals find having a dog present very helpful, not everyone who has a mental illness will qualify to get an emotional support dog.  Some people are starting to abuse the use of these dogs as ESDs. So  guidelines and laws must be followed.

In contrast to an official service animal, having a dog as a pet doesn’t have to have official training to provide emotional support.  Some individuals use a dog that has been with them already for many years, while others specifically choose a dog for that reason.  If you are wanting to acquire a new emotional support dog, make sure that you pay close attention to the animal’s temperament.  Search for a dog that demonstrates loyalty, calmness and intelligence.  It is also very important to realize your new dog is going to need care, so make sure you are mentally and physically able to provide your new pet with the attention that it needs.  

There are numerous details when it comes to accommodations that must be provided to emotional support dogs and service dogs.  Learn about the specifics that apply to your situation through reading through all of stipulations provided by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as the 1988 Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act.

Numerous individuals who suffer from mental illness have discovered that owning an emotional support dog supports their healing and empowers them.  Whether you decide to adopt a dog or ask for accommodations for your emotional support dog, you can fully take advantage of many of the benefits.


About the Authors: Diana and Michael are the proud dog parents of four dogs and run the site Little Doggies Rule, which is devoted to information about and resources for small dogs.