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What is an emotional support dog?

What is an emotional support dog?
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Emotional support animals (ESA) provide comfort and attention and can be any species from the animal kingdom. We’re most familiar with dogs as being the primary animal to fill this role. When people care for their dog, whether feeding, grooming, or walking, it creates a sense of purpose and can distract attention away from the things causing anxiety and other mental health issues. And while dogs can’t offer advice, they are excellent listeners (or at least appear to be) – and that’s a tremendous help for those who want to talk it out without being judged.

Can emotional support dogs really make a difference?

Can emotional support dogs really make a difference?
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Dog lovers inherently understand that dogs make people feel better. When we pet a dog, it brings a smile to our faces, our blood pressure goes down, and stress and anxiety fade into the background even during a chance encounter.

Even so, it’s validating to know that some studies show companion dogs can decrease anxiety and depression and improve overall mental health. A 2018 review published in BMC Psychiatry included 17 studies that featured measurable evidence relating to the ups and downs of pet ownership, how people connect with pets, the multiple ways companion animals help mental health conditions, and the psychological impact of losing a companion animal. In a nutshell, the review found pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions.

A more recent study conducted at the University of Toledo showed people who adopted companion animals experienced reduce depression, anxiety and loneliness. Though more research is needed, so far, studies point to companion animals as being a beneficial partner in human health and well-being.

What makes a good emotional support dog breed?

What makes a good emotional support dog breed?
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“The most important aspect to consider is the connection between the dog and the owner,” says Angela Logsdon-Hoover, ABCDT, a certified dog trainer and canine behaviourist.

In her experience, the person’s current dog is the best fit for the person who needs an ESA. “The dog already has a strong bond and the dog likely already naturally picks up on the owner’s stress response to triggers and can offer calm, comfort and security,” says Logsdon-Hoover. If a person doesn’t have a dog, the connection factor is equally important when looking for an emotional support dog. Additionally, the dog should already have good doggy manners at home, in public, and with other people and dogs. If not, you can learn together with basic obedience training.

Ideally, emotional support dogs are tuned into their human and react accordingly to what their person says or does, whether that’s with a celebratory dance, cuddling on the couch, or crying when they’re having a tough time.

With that in mind, our experts shared some of their favourites. Note that this is by no means an exclusive list. Any breed – or mixed breed for that matter, has the potential to be an excellent emotional support dog.

Cavalier King Charles spaniel

Cavalier King Charles spaniel
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Cavaliers were initially created to be companions dogs, so their genetics run deep as warm-hearted comforters. They are undeniably cute, well-mannered, and petite in size, making them great apartment dogs. “For people who want the companionship of their emotional support dog in a metropolitan area, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a good pick for a canine friend,” says Stacy Chocznski Johnson, DVM. They love adults, children and animals and are “irresistible to pet on a city street,” says Dr Chocznki Johnson. They could act as an ice breaker and help socially awkward situations and reassure or console you when you’re back at home.

Labrador retriever

Labrador retriever
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As one of the most popular dog breeds, it’s no shocker the loveable Labrador retriever is also a top-notch emotional support dog. As temperament goes, they’re happy, laid-back, and nothing seems to bother them much. They are trustworthy, dependable and always there to lick your face – or your ice cream cone. “This breed is super food motivated,” says Nicole Ellis, a certified professional dog trainer. Because of this, it’s easy to train them and teach them helpful tasks, such as laying beside you, resting their head on you, or providing deep pressure therapy, which is used to help reduce anxiety. It can be brought about by hugging, weighted blankets, and yes, by brushing a dog or a dog laying across your body, Ellis explains.

Here are 11 more of the most affectionate dog breeds that love to cuddle.

Corgi

Corgi
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“Corgis are happy, playful, easygoing dogs, making them a great choice for an emotional support dog,” says Dr Chocznski Johnson. “Watching a Corgi play can bring entertainment and joy to anyone. Seeing them zip around with their short legs and rotund hind ends can easily bring a smile to your face.” And you can have your pick of two types of Corgis – the Cardigan Welsh Corgi or the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. The Cardigan is slightly larger and has a fox-like bushy tail and the Pembroke, a docked tail. They do share similar temperaments – fun-loving, playful, clever and affectionate with a touch of boldness. After all, they are classified as herding dogs and have a strong instinct to protect their human.

Here are 17 calm dog breeds with easygoing personalities.

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The Great Pyrenees

The Great Pyrenees
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“If you find stress relief in repetitive motions like hair brushing, this is the perfect breed, as they require a significant amount of grooming for their thick luxurious coat,” says Dr Choczynski Johnson. And at around 45 kilograms, there’s going to be a lot of hair. (If you’re not keen on heavy shedding and brushing, consider one of these equally cute dog breeds that don’t shed too much.) The Great Pyrenees is also exceptionally calm and mellow, and they’re not particularly active, which makes them a good fit for someone who prefers a leisurely stroll over countless rounds of fetch.

Here are some of the world’s largest dog breeds.

Standard poodle

Standard poodle
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Of the three sizes of poodles, the standard poodle is the largest at around 22 to 27kg. If you’ve ever seen a poodle in the show ring, you may think they look too “foo-foo” and self-absorbed to be emotional support dogs. Not a chance – they are actually quite lovey-dovey, eager to please, and easy to be around you 24/7. When it comes to grooming, poodles have hair that grows like humans. “These non-shedding dogs are often goofy and have an uplifting personality, which will surely rub off and brighten your day. They’re also super smart and can usually read their pet parents,” says Ellis. With proper care and nutrition, they’ll be by your side for years to come because poodles are one of the dog breeds that live the longest.

Great Dane

Great Dane
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The Great Dane makes quite an impression with its towering physique. That may be very appealing for someone who wants a four-legged bodyguard or a buffer zone when interacting with other people. The Great Dane is by no means unfriendly, but as a guard dog breed, their loyalty, protection and affection lie with you first. They tend to be aloof with people they don’t know, yet incredibly friendly with their human. “I love Great Danes, as they truly are gentle giants. Their affection and compassion is endless, and being so large a good snuggle can help with some deep pressure therapy,” says Ellis.

Maltese

Maltese
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If you’re looking for a silky white pint-size cuddle bug with big expressive eyes, the Maltese might be the emotional support dog for you. When they’re not cosying up on your lap, they are the life of the party, even if it’s just a party for the two of you. “The Maltese is a good choice for a single adult, as they tend to have a favourite person that they attach to,” says Dr Choczynski Johnson. They can’t give therapeutic advice, but they’ll comfort and soothe you with a lick or muzzle snuggle. As an emotional support animal, the Maltese is probably nearby most of the time.

These 20 most loyal dog breeds will always be by your side.

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