Can You Train Your Dog to be an Emotional Support Animal?

Can You Train Your Dog to be an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a pet that provides therapeutic benefits to individuals with emotional or mental health disorders. Dogs, in particular, are popular choices for ESAs due to their innate ability to provide comfort and companionship. But can you train your dog to be an ESA? The answer is yes. Here’s how.

Understanding the Role of an ESA

Before you start training your dog to be an ESA, it’s important to understand what an ESA does. Unlike service dogs, ESAs are not trained to perform specific tasks. Instead, their primary role is to provide emotional comfort and companionship. They help alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.

Assessing Your Dog’s Suitability

Not all dogs are suitable to be ESAs. An ideal ESA should have a calm and friendly temperament. They should be comfortable around people and other animals, and they should not exhibit aggressive or overly protective behaviors. If your dog fits these criteria, they could potentially be a good ESA.

Basic Obedience Training

The first step in training your dog to be an ESA is to ensure they have basic obedience training. Your dog should be able to follow basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “leave it.” This ensures that your dog can behave well in different environments.


Socialization is crucial for an ESA. Your dog should be comfortable in various settings and around different people and animals. Regularly expose your dog to different environments, like parks, pet stores, and outdoor cafes. This will help them become more adaptable and less likely to be stressed or anxious in new situations.

Desensitization Training

If your dog gets anxious around certain stimuli (like loud noises or crowded places), desensitization training can help. Gradually expose your dog to these stimuli in a controlled way, rewarding them for calm behavior. Over time, this can help reduce their anxiety.

Therapy Dog Training

While not required, some people choose to put their ESA through therapy dog training. This involves more advanced training and usually culminates in a certification. A certified therapy dog is trained to provide comfort to various people (not just their owner) in settings like hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.

Registering Your ESA

Once your dog is well-trained, you can register them as an ESA. This usually involves obtaining a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating you have a mental health condition and that your dog provides necessary emotional support.

In conclusion, while any dog can provide comfort and companionship, training your dog to be an ESA involves ensuring they are well-behaved, adaptable, and able to provide consistent emotional support. With patience and consistency, you can train your dog to be an effective ESA, providing invaluable emotional support and companionship.