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How To Register Your Dog as an Emotional Support Animal

Woman doing yoga with dog

Dogs have been beloved companions to humans for thousands of years. Over time, they’ve picked up different jobs to help humans. Dogs continue to help humans to this day, and many have important jobs in the mental health field. One common way that dogs assist people in this field is by being an emotional support animal (ESA). 

 There can be some confusion around ESAs because there are different classifications and certifications that animals can receive to provide varying levels of assistance. It’s important to note that ESAs don’t need to receive special training or enter into a registry. What really matters is obtaining a valid ESA Letter. 

 If you’re interested in having an emotional support dog, make sure that you know exactly what these types of dogs do and how to go about living with one. Here’s a breakdown of the steps you can expect to take to let your dog become an ESA. 

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Before You Start

mobility support dog opening door
Image Credit By:Jose Luis Stephens, Shutterstock

It’s important to first recognize and acknowledge your need for an ESA. Some people may live with mental and emotional conditions that significantly impair their daily life. They may benefit from living with an ESA because its main job is to provide emotional support and help its owner cope with emotional triggers. 

 Therefore, ESAs are commonly known to help individuals living with depression, anxiety, phobias, and PTSD.

 In order to receive an ESA letter for your dog, you have to be prepared to meet with a licensed mental health professional. You would complete an evaluation that determines if having an emotional support dog would improve your quality of life. 

 Keep in mind that the concept of ESAs has received some criticism in the past because people who do not need ESAs try to obtain ESA letters just for special accommodations, such as living in a pet-free apartment with their pets. 

 Therefore, it’s important to treat ESAs as a valid source of support for many people living with debilitating conditions. In order to properly advocate for the need for ESAs, only individuals who truly need emotional support should request ESA letters. 

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1. Meet With a Licensed Mental Health Professional

Doctor talking to a patient
Image Credit By: Sozavisimost, Pixabay

If you believe you would benefit from having your dog as an ESA, the first thing you must do is schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. 

 The four professionals who can prescribe a valid letter for ESAs are the following: 

  • Licensed Primary Care Physician
  • Licensed Mental Health Professional (clinical social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist)
  • Licensed Therapist
  • Licensed General Physician

It doesn’t hurt to ask your own doctors if they can prescribe ESAs. However, keep in mind that only physicians with a specific license can prescribe them. So, you may end up receiving a referral from your doctor to meet with a licensed mental health professional for further evaluation. 

 To make the process a little easier, you can connect with a licensed therapist that is familiar with or specializes in prescribing emotional support animals. 


2. Discuss and Demonstrate Your Need for an Emotional Support Dog

Once you schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health professional, you will receive an evaluation that determines your need for an ESA. You can expect to provide information on your mental health history, such as any mental health diagnoses and treatments you’ve received. 


3. Obtain Your ESA Letter

Opening a letter received via mail
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If the licensed mental health professional deems that you are eligible for an ESA, you will be given an ESA letter. The cost of obtaining an ESA letter averages between $100-$150. You can expect to receive it within several business days after your appointment. 

What ESA Letters Need

When you receive an ESA letter, make sure to review it thoroughly to ensure that it has everything that it needs to be accepted as a valid letter. 

A valid ESA letter must contain the following information:

  • Your name
  • An official letterhead
  • The diagnosis of the condition that the ESA will help treat
  • Licensed mental health professional’s or doctor’s signature
  • Licensed mental health professional’s or doctor’s license information, including:
    • License number
    • State of issuance
    • Date of issuance

4. Renew Your ESA Letter Annually

ESA letters act similarly to medical prescriptions. Many landlords and airlines will only accept ESA letters that have been issued within 1 year. 

 Therefore, it’s good practice to renew your letter annually. You can do this by scheduling an appointment with a licensed mental health professional for a re-evaluation. 


5. Register Your Dog as an ESA (Optional)

Woman on computer doing research
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

You don’t have to register your dog as an ESA to validate its status. An ESA letter is enough proof to exercise your rights to living with an ESA. So, registration is completely optional, but there are some benefits to joining a registry

 Registries can provide helpful information on updates on laws affecting ESAs. You can also receive deals on emotional support products and gear, such as special vests and leashes. 

 When you register your dog, it’ll receive an ID number. So, in the case of an emergency, someone can easily search your dog’s ID number in the registry’s database to trace your dog back to you. 

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Know Your Rights

ESAs don’t have as much access as psychiatric service animals and service dogs. However, they still have rights and laws established to protect them. 

 For example, landlords and HOAs can’t reject ESAs from living in no-pet buildings. They also can’t charge additional fees or deposits, such as a pet fee, for ESAs to live in the building. 

 People can’t ask for certifications or registrations for your ESA because ESAs don’t require any training. Any dog breed can be an ESA. 

 Lastly, make sure that you receive your ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional or health care worker. No other person can write a valid ESA letter for you. 

 How To Adopt an Emotional Support Dog

You don’t need a dog before you can obtain an ESA letter. ESA letters act more like a prescription for the individual person. As long as you have an ESA letter, the dog you bring home becomes your ESA. 

 Any dog breed can qualify as an ESA. So, if you already live with a dog, you can definitely have it become your ESA. However, if you don’t have a dog, there are several dog breeds that tend to be popular choices:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Pomeranians
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Poodles
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Maltese
  • Havanese

These dog breeds tend to be ideal ESAs because they’re bred as service dogs or companion dogs. So, they’re basically meant to be your friend and are often very attuned or sensitive to emotions. 

 With that in mind, it might be best to avoid dog breeds that are known to be independent, aloof, or have a strong prey drive:

  • Chow Chow
  • Tibetan Mastiff
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Saluki
  • Rat Terrier

Herding and working dogs, such as Australian Cattle Dogs and Siberian Huskies, may not also be a good fit because they tend to have high exercise demands and often prefer to work and herd rather than sit still. 

 Just keep in mind that not all dogs will fall into their breed’s standard temperament. However, being knowledgeable about the general characteristics of the dog breed can be a great place to start if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed about how to adopt an emotional support dog. It can help you whittle down your options. 

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Wrapping Up

Dogs don’t need to be registered in a registry to be validated as an ESA, but it can be helpful to join a registry for convenience purposes. All you need is a valid ESA letter for your dog to become your emotional support dog. 

 Overall, ESAs can greatly benefit the quality of life of individuals living with mental and emotional disabilities. So, it’s an option worth considering if you or a loved one is looking to receive consistent emotional support through a constant companion. 


Featured Image Credit: cottonbro, Pexels

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