Your ESA (emotional support animal) can be trained to help relieve mental and emotional distress. It’s a matter of finding ways to help them detect when you need them and getting them to provide the response you need to regain control over the potential issue.

To be clear, your ESA does not need to undergo any specialized training. All you need for your pet to be considered an emotional support animal is an ESA letter. Nevertheless, training your ESA can make them even more effective at helping you. 

Discover What Alleviates Your Symptoms

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for calming an attack, especially if you live withsuffer from multiple emotional and mental disorders. The feelings of anxiety and depression could be reduced through smells, whereas OCD or panic may be more tactile with touch. The first step in training your ESA to assist with your situation is learning about your signs.

As you start to feel the onset of an issue, think about your body movements. Pay attention to things like increased fidgeting, sweating, or even having trouble focusing. Once you detect these, try seeing what types of interactions or strategies you can use to get them under control.  This includes interaction with your emotional support animal.

  • Is it watching your fish in the tank and modifying the color of the light? Or even turning off the lights in the room so the fish tank is the focus?
  • Maybe it’s watching your cat chase a laser to distract you for ten minutes.
  • Petting your bunny and giving it some snuggles may help.
  • Or simply cuddling your dog on the couch or bed and get a big whiff of pupperscent that brings you back down.
Emotional support rabbit cuddling with their owner
The comfort from an emotional support animal can come in many ways and with some targeted training you may get it on demand.

Keep a notebook with your symptoms and what alleviates them. If you can detect a pattern, you may be able to predict what calms that specific symptom and then go to the next step.

Create a Trigger for the Animal

Just like people, your emotional support animal or animals will have different motivators; for some, it could be food, and for others, it could be belly rubs or exercise. Once you know their motivators, try training them to think that a specific sound, movement, or action means they get the reward for a behavior.

  • If petting your free-range animal, such as a cat or dog, helps, keep treats in a sealed jar on your desk and by the couch. Now, train them to know that when the jar opens, they get a treat. Once the cat or dog learns that they need to give you some petting time, they get a treat. This could also reinforce that being petted is a good thing and make it even more enjoyable if they already love it.
    Fun fact: Some pet fish, like Oscars, can interact with their humans. You can even train them to swim through hoops or roll over.
  • When cuddling or getting snuggles is helpful for your symptoms and your emotional support animal enjoys it, try signaling them with a specific sound. Unlike a leash, which means they’re going for a walk, do something like a glass of water to signal it is time for bed. Once they join you, share a treat when they snuggle for positive reinforcement that they did the right behavior.
  • For some people, watching their emotional support animal can change their thought process or distract them from the symptom, so keep a toy they like to engage with handy and rotate them so it’s something new. Cats, for example, may respond to laser pointers or feathers and ribbons on wands. Hearing the drawer you keep them in, and the clank of the toy can trigger its play time for their “every so often” favorite toy.
  • Clicker training can elicit certain behaviors, but you may want to save it for house training or behavior that is needed more frequently.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to help reduce the symptoms of a mental or emotional disorder, just like there are many ways to train an emotional support pet. Experiment to find the right mix that works for you and your companion, and ask your therapist for their recommendations, as they may have ideas based on your specific mental health history.