Can Your Dog Be An Emotional Support Animal?

The simple answer to this question is yes, but there are some important factors to keep in mind while learning how to register an emotional support dog. First off, we’re going to cover the differences between an emotional support animal vs a service animal, which terms apply, and why one might consider one type of certification over the other. Then, we’ll talk about what one might need to do in order to train and certify an emotional support animal.

Emotional Support Dog in Jacksonville

Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs

Rights Service Dogs Emotional Support Dogs
Function First, what is a service dog? Service dogs complete specific tasks for those with a physical or emotional disability, such as guiding or alerting. Emotional support dogs and therapy dogs provide companionship and emotional support, especially for those with mental illnesses. (Note that they are different from psychiatric service dogs, which complete specific tasks.)
Training Service dogs are professionally trained to take specific tasks in the care of disabled people. For instance, guide dogs will know how to navigate environments safely and are taught not to interact with people. A service dog for a deaf person may alert them about fire alarms. These dogs behave more like pets and provide comfort. They don’t necessarily need specific training, though some therapy dogs are trained to behave calmly around certain groups of people.
Legal Protection Service dogs are fully covered federally under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and cannot be barred from public spaces such as the workplace, fair housing, educational settings, and your side during air travel. Federal legal protections are limited to certain situations within housing and air travel. Some states and cities offer more specific protections. By and large, emotional support animals (ESAs) are not as protected as service dogs.
Types of Animals A service animal must be a dog or miniature horse to be recognized by the ADA. No specific breed of dog is required. Some owners like to differentiate their service dog with a vest or collar to help discourage other people who want to interact with the dog, but this is not a requirement. The only requirement is that the emotional support animal is domesticated, manageable in public and mitigates the person’s symptoms. That means other animals like cats, birds, snakes and others can be ESAs.
Certification Under the ADA, service dogs do not require official documentation or certification, and you do not need to show them as proof of training to someone blocking their entry into a public space. It is required in many cities, however, that the dog is licensed. Some colleges ask for volunteer registration, but it is not a requirement under the ADA. The only official way to certify your emotional support animal is to obtain a letter from a professional, licensed mental health specialist.

How to Register an Emotional Support Animal

  1. Talk to a licensed medical professional therapist (LMPT) and demonstrate your need for an emotional support dog.
  2. Get an official letter of recommendation from your therapist. It must have the following: your LMPT’s letterhead, a statement of your disability (usually a diagnosis), the recommendation of an emotional support animal to relieve symptoms, your therapist’s license number, the therapist’s signature and a date.
  3. No other registration or certification is required. (Note that some airlines may require additional forms.)
  4. From there, those wondering how to get an emotional support dog don’t need to worry, as these pets don’t need to be any specific breed or trained by a specific organization.

Note that some landlords and airlines may ask you to complete more forms and verifications, but all you legally need is your signed and official letter from your licensed professional therapist in order for your dog to qualify as an emotional support animal.