The best dogs for emotional support are worth their weight in gold. Even though they are often misunderstood by the wider public, they help to lower blood pressure and stress and are capable of treating depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In that sense, our four-legged friends are proving invaluable, and doctors are increasingly becoming aware of their benefits for mental health. In May 2021, researchers at the The University of Toledo published scientific evidence showing emotional support animals are aiding people with chronic mental illness. The number of dogs used for emotional support is also rising as more and more people become attuned to the benefits.
So which breeds actually labelled emotional support dogs? Actually, none. To be deemed a good emotional support dog, it must only be well-behaved and toilet-trained but no dogs are specifically directed to offer emotional support. As such, it's widely accepted that any breed can offer benefits but some dogs are perhaps more suitable than others. Here we round up 11 breeds which we believe should be high on your list.
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PetsRadar’s guide to the best dogs for emotional support
1. Labrador Retriever
Highly trainable, intelligent and gentle, Labrador Retrievers are well-known for being friendly and they make great companions – particularly for those who love to venture into the great outdoors. Their eagerness to please focuses their attention on people and their calm, stable nature makes them a rock you can always depend on.
2. Yorkshire Terrier
Yorkshire Terriers may be small but they certainly have big hearts. They'll curl up on your lap and enjoy all the attention you give them. They'll also shower you with affection and quickly understand your emotional cues. Given their size, they can also go with your on your travels. Even a number of airlines will allow them inside the cabin (although, sadly, the number is falling).
If you're to gain effective emotional support from a dog, it's important that they're able to make sense of your facial expressions. In this regard, Corgis are king since they're always alert, aware of their environment and on hand to assist with a number of mental illnesses. Their intelligence and ability to be easily trained ensures they can follow commands, too.
4. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
As one of the planet's most loving dogs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have come to be known as a “love sponge”. Originally bred for comfort and companionship, they're certainly great for anyone who finds emotional support in a great big cuddle and they're particularly good at helping people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.
5. Golden Retriever
Some people prefer larger dogs, feeling safer and more secure when they're around. That's sure to be the case with a Golden Retriever by your side – a dog which can sense your moods rather well and provide great comfort by choosing to lie next to you. Loyal, friendly and playful, they can help alleviate depression. They're great at following orders and generally well-behaved as well.
Another tiny breed, Chihuahuas are known to aid people living with anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and autism. Small enough to take on an airplane and forming a close bond with their owner, they need early socialization. But they don't need lots of exercise which will suit introverts and those who prefer life inside.
7. Irish Wolfhound
Yes, they are huge and imposing but Irish Wolfhounds are far from being scary dogs. Capable of living in colder climates, they're nicknamed the Gentle Giant and that's because they're patient and kind as well as attuned to emotions and feelings. The biggest problem is their lifespan. They only live between six and 10 years.
8. Border Collie
Border Collies are herding dogs and they're also very active, so if you're looking for an emotional support dog that will give you plenty of exercise, then you're on very sound ground with this breed. They're also highly intelligent dogs with a great ability to read people. You'll find they're incredibly adaptive with an ability to think on their feet. Their sensitivity means you may need to be there for them too, however.
Aside from being clever and obedient, poodles are people pleasers and they'll focus their attention on you regardless of any changing situations. It's this adaptability combined with their dependable nature which makes poodles such great emotional support. Sure, they're high maintenance, requiring regular grooming and trimming. But, their lifespan of up to 15 years means they'll be sticking around for a good while.
10. German Shepherd
For anyone looking to feel protected, German Shepherds fit the bill perfectly. Give them good, early training and you'll find they're quick to learn. Their stamina and bags of energy will also encourage you out of the house, safely guarding you as you enjoy your walks. Great with families and possessing a calm temperament, they'll be sensitive to your emotional needs and become a very firm friend.
Pugs are social dogs who love nothing more than being around people, making them an excellent choice to be an ESA dog. They're ideal for anyone suffering from anxiety or depression thanks to their even temperament and cheerful disposition. Just be aware that if you fly often a pug might not the best choice for you as some airlines regard the pug as a sensitive breed; reduced pressure in the cabin can make it harder for pugs to breathe.
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David Crookes has been a journalist for more than 20 years and he has written for a host of magazines, newspapers, websites and books including World of Animals, BBC Earth, Dogs and Canines, Gadget and The Independent. Born in England, he lives in a household with two cats but he’s also keenly interested in the differences between the huge number of dog breeds — in fact, you can read many of his breed guides here on PetsRadar. With a lifelong passion for technology, too, he’s always on the lookout for useful devices that will allow people to spend more time with their pets.