East Valley K9 Services


Emotional Support Dog

The role of the emotional support dog is to provide companionship, cuddles on demand and the easing of anxiety, depression, phobias and more

Emotional Support Dog

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

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Not only do our amazing dogs provide unconditional love and companionship, but many today are also working dogs supporting their humans with day-to-day life!

Are Emotional Support Dogs Service Dogs?

The simple answer is no. Although emotional support dogs (ESDs) provide invaluable emotional or mental support, they are not legally recognized as “service dogs” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Let’s take a closer look below.


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Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a physical or mental disability. Currently, there are over 80 million Americans with service dogs. The actions of a service dog help mitigate the individual’s disability. In fact, service dogs are legally recognized as a necessary “medical device.” Service dogs are also legally protected under the ADA when it comes to public access and freedom.

A Retriever Service Dog

But while emotional support dogs help people with some mental disabilities (including OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia and more) they are not legally recognized as service dogs. Only psychiatric service dogs are legally recognized and protected under the ADA.

So, what is an emotional support dog?

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

Emotional support animals (ESAs), including dogs (and cats and even miniature horses), are considered pets not service dogs under the law and as such are not protected under the regulations of the ADA.

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An emotional support dog (or animal) is defined as a “pet or animal prescribed by a licensed therapist to provide a health benefit for those who suffer from an emotional or mental disability.” These disabling mental illnesses include one or more of the following:

  • Anxiety Disorder (General/Severe)
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Cognitive Disorders
  • Depression
  • Gender Identity

A Depressed Young Man

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The role of the emotional support dog is to provide companionship, cuddles on demand and the easing of anxiety, depression, phobias and more. Research has shown dogs can also help provide trauma support and comfort, lessen feelings of loneliness, improve the ability to cope with pain as well as offer a sense of purpose for the human.

Emotional Support Dog: Legal Protections

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As said before, emotional support dogs are not legally protected under the ADA.

But they are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act (through HUD) as a recognized “assistance animal.” This means an emotional support dog must be allowed even at properties when a no-pets policy. In addition, property owners are not allowed to charge an additional pet deposit or fee for a prescribed emotional support dog.

Conversely, unlike legal service dogs, emotional support dogs are not allowed into most public places including restaurants, hotels, stores and even workplaces. Always check first if your support animal is allowed access.

The Fair Housing Acts Protects Emotional Support Dogs

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Final Notes

The ADA does not require the registration of emotional support dogs. However, owners of dogs working as emotional support animals will need a formal ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional when trying to secure housing for themselves and their ESD.

American airlines have the right to refuse Emotional Support Dogs

  1. As of January 11, 2021, United States airlines have the option to refuse access to emotional support dogs. Always check with your airlines before traveling.
  2. Emotional support dogs/animals also do not require specialized training for specific tasks and this is the greatest difference between an ESD and a service dog. But to those with mental and emotional challenges, the emotional support dog can represent a priceless, new lease on life with the resumption of being able to participate in major life activities!


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Want to Train Your Dog to Become a Therapy Dog?

Our Therapy Dog Program is designed for both mental health professionals and individuals!

Learn more about our program here.




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