Although emotional support animals (ESA) do not have to be as highly trained as a certified service dog, there are some things you will want to consider when choosing a dog intended for emotional support. Emotional Support Animals are pets that a licensed therapist or doctor recommends for an individual. Before you dive into training, you should first see if you qualify for an emotional support animal.
If you do, please read on as we delve into the realm of emotional support dogs. We will include the qualities your dog should possess and how to train your canine to perform a specific emotional support technique.
What Qualities Should an Emotional Support Dog Possess?
Most dogs possess the natural tendency to be devoted to their pet parent; after all, that’s what makes them man’s and woman’s best friend. However, some dogs may be too rambunctious, overly excitable, or just too timid to help people in their darkest moments. That isn’t to say that these pup-personality-types can’t or will never be able to be an emotional support animal, it just means they may take more training to do so.
If your therapist has recommended an emotional support dog to help with your diagnosis, you will want to look for a canine around a year-old and is calm and laid-back in nature, as well as responsive to you. Making a true connection or an instant bond with any pet is one way to ensure your dog will be there when needed the most.
Puppies and Emotional Support
Some people want to take a puppy and teach it to be an emotional support animal. This is a great way to train the dog up “in the ways” of this important duty.
For this, you will, once again, want to find a breed of dog that tends to be more people-orientated and eager to learn. Such breeds include the Labrador or Golden Retrievers, Poodles, and the ever-gaining in popularity Goldendoodle. Of course, any breed or mixed breed can certainly offer the qualities you are searching for; just be willing to research and visit individual puppies to find the best candidate.
Once you have chosen your puppy, start with the basics of obedience training; sit, stay, down, come, heel, etc. The younger you start with these lessons, the more likely your dog will be a suitable emotional support companion. If you don’t know where to start with the training, this online training class may be useful.
In addition to obedience, your dog will also need to be well socialized. This means no barking, jumping, lunging, begging for food, or other annoying habits some dogs can exhibit when out in a public setting.
This is not only for your benefit — it’s hard to be unstressed if you have to be constantly looking out for your dog’s unruly behavior —, but your dog will be expected to be well-behaved when out-and-about.
If you feel you are not up to the task of training your dog, enlist the help of a professional trainer, a family member, or a friend that may want to do the training or go to the training classes for you.
A Quick Trick to Teach Your Dog to Calm Your Anxiety
Studies have shown that a technique called Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) can help calm those who suffer from anxiety, autism, self-harming behaviors, and stress in general. This type of non-medicated treatment has been proven to help reduce the duration of the condition and make it easier to bear.
The principle behind DPT is to have the dog apply gentle pressure to your body, chest, or affected body part (as in self-harming) depending on the size of the canine. For smaller dogs, you can teach them to lie directly across your chest or along the front of your body, while larger breeds can be taught to place their heads or feet across your lap or legs — whatever is most comfortable for you.
Here are the steps to teaching your dog Deep Pressure Therapy:
- On the Sofa & Paws Up Command
If your dog isn’t used to being on a sofa, you may have to coax him up using some treats. This is as simple as showing your dog the treat, then slowly moving it to the back of the sofa while excitedly saying his name and “paws up” (example, “Toby, paws up!”)
Depending on your dog’s reluctance to join you on the sofa, you may have to reward him each time he gets closer to being on the sofa.
If you have a smaller dog, the main goal is for your pooch to have all four paws on the sofa, then be in a “down” position. If your dog is larger — that you don’t want to or can’t bear his weight — this “paws up” command will be with his front paws or head on the sofa.
Keep practicing the “paws up” command with treats until your dog knows what it means. Once this is accomplished, you can practice it without the aid of treats — you want your dog to do this because you need it to, not because there is a food reward at the end of the session.
- Paws Off Command
Next, you will want to teach your dog the “paws off” command. This is the same as “paws up,” but in reverse. To practice, call your dog off the sofa with the command “paws off.”
Remember to reward each time he follows through.
- Laying/Sitting on Sofa
Ideally, for the DPT to work, you want your small-to-medium-size dog to lie vertically along your body with his paws on your shoulders and his head next to yours. If you have a large dog, he will put his paws across your legs or lie his head on your lap when you are in a sitting position.
To train your dog to do this, use the “paws up” command, then the “down” command once he is vertically in place or along your lap. When your dog accomplishes this task, give him a treat, followed by the “paws down” command.
You have to practice this training in order for your dog to do it on command, without a food reward at the end.
If you are teaching a larger dog the DPT technique, he will have to lean into your lap for the pressure to be applied properly; however, once your dog relaxes, he should naturally put his weight on your lap.
- The Signs of Anxiety Training
Once your dog has mastered the above techniques, take the training further by mimicking the symptoms you experience during a stressful situation. By practicing this while you are calm and able to reward your dog for following the commands, it will be better when you are in real need.
Emotional Support Dogs Help
Emotional support dogs have a special way of calming people down. Whether your dog instinctively picks up on your needs or it requires a little training along the way, the support is a true step in healing for those who may otherwise suffer in silence.
Make your Dog an Official Emotional Support Dog
Get your ESA Letter from a Licensed Mental Health Professional