Get your medical certificate from £37

Emotional Support Dog Training: A Step-by-Step Guide

Get your Emotional Support Animal Letter from £45

Having a furry friend by your side can be a huge comfort if you’re struggling with mental health issues. Emotional support dogs offer crucial comfort and support, but they also benefit from training.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to train your emotional support dog in simple steps. Keep reading to learn more!

Understanding Emotional Support Dogs

What is an Emotional Support Dog and why do they require training? How does their training differ from that of service dogs, and what sets them apart from therapy dogs?

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

An Emotional Support Dog (ESD) is a pet that offers comfort and support to its owner. They help with mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Unlike service dogs, they don’t need special training to do tasks for people with physical disabilities.

Their main role is to be a close friend who brings calmness.

Emotional support dogs can sense their owner’s feelings and act accordingly. This ability makes them great at easing stress without any formal obedience schooling. With the right paperwork from a health expert, an ESD can live in places that normally do not allow pets.

This shows how vital they are for emotional well-being.

Why do they need training?

Emotional support dogs provide comfort for people with mental health conditions. Their training can make a big difference. It helps them understand how to behave around their owner and in public places.

Training includes learning commands and how to stay calm in different situations. This makes the dog more helpful as a companion.

Starting with potty training and basic obedience is key for an emotional support dog. These skills create a strong foundation for any further emotional support training for dogs, including deep pressure therapy which helps soothe anxiety attacks.

With consistent practice, these animals learn how to offer support during tough times, making life easier for their owners who might struggle with disorders like depression or social anxiety.

Dog trainers often use positive reinforcement, like treats and praise, to teach these skills effectively.

Differences between ESAs and service dogs

Understanding the distinctions between Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and service dogs is crucial. These differences shape how we interact with and perceive each type of animal within society.

Criteria Emotional Support Dogs Service Dogs
Purpose To offer comfort and support through companionship. To perform specific tasks for people with disabilities.
Training Requirements No specific training required, but basic training enhances benefits. Extensive training to perform disability-related tasks.
Legal Protections Allowed in no-pet housing and on flights (with certain conditions). Wider access, including restaurants, stores, and other public spaces.
Certification An ESA letter from a licensed healthcare specialist is needed. No official certification, but proof of task-related training may be requested.

Service dogs undergo rigorous training, ensuring they can assist with disabilities such as guiding blind owners or alerting deaf individuals to sounds. They have a legal right to accompany their owner in most public places. ESAs, while not requiring specific training, offer invaluable emotional support and require an ESA letter for certain privileges. This fundamental understanding highlights the different roles and requirements of each type of support animal.

ESA vs therapy dogs

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and therapy canines play unique roles. Knowing the distinction helps in choosing the right companion for your needs.

Aspect Emotional Support Dogs Therapy Dogs
Purpose Provide comfort and support to their owner Offer comfort to many people in settings like hospitals and schools
Training Required Not required, but beneficial Must pass specific training and certification
Access Rights Limited public access rights Access to facilities for therapeutic visits
Certification Requires an ESA letter from a licensed professional Needs to pass a therapy pet program
Role Focuses on one individual Interacts with multiple individuals for therapeutic purposes

ESAs offer support through presence. Therapy canines require skills to interact with various individuals. Both serve vital, but different roles.

Basic Training for Emotional Support Dogs

Train your emotional support dog for basic commands, potty training, and deep pressure therapy. To learn more about this important process, continue reading the full blog.

Potty training

Potty training is the first step in preparing your dog to be a supportive companion. This process requires patience and consistency from the owner.

  1. Choose a designated toilet area outside. Always take your dog to this same spot. It helps them learn faster.
  2. Use a word or phrase each time they go, like “toilet time”. Saying this will teach them to associate the words with the action.
  3. Reward them immediately after they finish. Treats and praise make them understand they did something good.
  4. Set a regular feeding schedule. What goes in on a schedule, comes out on a schedule.
  5. Take them out first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Also, after meals and naps.
  6. Watch for signs they need to go, such as sniffing around or circling.
  7. Be patient and avoid punishment for accidents inside. Clean up messes quickly and use an odour neutraliser.
  8. Keep training sessions short but frequent throughout the day.
  9. Crate train for times you are not home, it prevents accidents and keeps them safe.
  10. Stay consistent with commands and actions to help them learn the routine.

Using these steps can set the foundation for further obedience training important for emotional support dogs, ensuring they offer comfort without health hazards at home.

Teaching basic commands

After mastering potty training, the next step in training your emotional support dog is teaching them basic commands. These commands are vital for obedience and ensure that your dog can follow simple instructions, which are essential for both their safety and the comfort of those around them.

  1. Start with “Sit”: This is often the first command dogs learn. Use a treat to guide your dog’s nose upwards while gently pressing down on their backside. Once they sit, say “Sit” clearly and give them the treat.
  2. Move on to “Stay”: Ask your dog to sit, then open your palm in front of you, and say “Stay”. Take a few steps back. If they stay put, reward them with a treat.
  3. Teach “Come”: This command helps keep your dog out of trouble and is vital for their safety. Start by kneeling on the ground and saying “Come” while holding out a treat. When they come to you, give them the treat.
  4. Introduce “Down”: This command gets your dog to lie down from a sitting position. Hold a treat close to their snout and move your hand towards the ground; they should follow it into a lying down position. Once down, say “Down” and give them the snack.
  5. Practice “Leave it”: Place a treat in both hands. Show one closed fist with the treat inside to your dog and say “Leave it.” Wait until they stop sniffing or licking at your fist then reward them with the treat from the other hand.

6 practice sessions should be short but consistent, lasting around 10-15 minutes each day.

7 always use positive reinforcement such as treats or verbal praise when they successfully follow a command.

8 A comfortable collar and leash are helpful tools during training outside, keeping control without discomfort for your dog.

9 Patience plays a key role; some dogs might pick up commands faster than others.

10 Socialization is part of training; introduce your emotional support animal to different environments and people so they become well-adjusted companions.

11 Understanding each other’s body language strengthens the bond between you and aids training success.

12 Maintain firmness in voice but avoid shouting or punishment; this could foster fear rather than learning.

Following these steps will help lay a strong foundation for any emotional support dog’s training regimen by establishing clear communication between you two from early on.

Deep Pressure Therapy

Deep Pressure Therapy helps people feel calm. Trainers teach emotional support dogs to gently press on their owner’s body. This can be a big help during panic attacks or moments of high stress.

The dog learns how to place its weight in a comforting way, not too heavy but enough to make an impact.

This part of esa dog training is key for owners with anxiety or depression. It uses the natural bond between the dog and its human to bring relief in tough times. Now, onto socialisation, where these special dogs learn to behave well around other animals and people.


After completing deep pressure therapy, socialisation is crucial for emotional support dogs. It helps them interact with various environments and people, making them more adaptable and calm. Here are essential aspects to consider for effective socialisation:

  1. Exposing the dog to different locations like parks, streets, and public places to develop confidence and ease in new surroundings.
  2. Introducing the dog to a variety of people of different ages, genders, and ethnicities to promote friendliness and empathy.
  3. Allowing the dog to interact with other animals under controlled circumstances to enhance their social skills.
  4. Exposing the dog to various sounds like traffic noises, doorbells, and sirens to reduce anxiety in noisy environments.
  5. Ensuring positive experiences through treats and praise during social interactions to build a positive association with new experiences.

Advanced Training for Emotional Support Dogs

Advanced training for emotional support dogs involves teaching them to respond to their owner’s specific needs and providing emotional support in challenging situations. This includes training them to recognise signs of distress, stay calm in crowds, and offer comfort through physical contact.

Emotional support training

Emotional support dogs benefit from training, although it’s not mandatory. Training should focus on responding to the owner’s needs and providing emotional relief. Deep pressure therapy is a key aspect of training an emotional support dog, offering comfort by using gentle pressure or weight.

This method helps reduce anxiety and provides a sense of security for the individual in distress.

Training methods for emotional support dogs can vary based on the type of support needed, such as for anxiety or depression. Consistency in training ensures that these dogs can provide effective emotional support when required.

This might involve teaching them specific tasks to help alleviate symptoms during times of distress.

Tips for further training

To enhance the emotional support training and ensure the dog can provide the necessary comfort, consider the following tips for further training:

  1. Consistency is key: Practice commands regularly using positive reinforcement such as treats to reinforce good behaviour.
  2. Specialised training techniques: Tailor the training towards the specific needs of the individual being supported, whether it be for anxiety or depression.
  3. Socialisation exercises: Introduce the dog to various environments and people to build confidence and reduce anxiety.
  4. Advanced obedience training: Progress to more complex commands and behaviours, ensuring the dog can respond effectively in different situations.
  5. Continued deep pressure therapy: Maintain regular practice sessions for deep pressure therapy to help alleviate stress and provide comfort when needed.
  6. Seek professional guidance: Consult with a qualified trainer or behaviourist experienced in emotional support dog training to address any challenges and refine techniques.
  7. Assessing progress: Monitor the dog’s development closely, making adjustments as necessary to meet both their needs and those of their owner.
  8. Ongoing education: Stay informed about current best practices regarding emotional support dog training by seeking out relevant resources and information from reputable organisations like the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Qualities of a good ESA

A good Emotional Support Animal (ESA) should have a calm and friendly temperament, providing comfort and relief to its owner. They must be well-behaved, obedient, and responsive to their owner’s emotional needs.

An ESA should also exhibit resilience and adaptability in various environments, as well as being able to provide deep pressure therapy when necessary for anxiety or stress relief. It is important that ESAs are socialised and trained to remain composed in public settings.

Moreover, they need to exhibit patience and gentleness while tasked with providing emotional support.

adaptability, deep pressure therapy, anxiety relief, public settings, socialisation.

Qualifying for an Emotional Support Dog

To qualify for an Emotional Support Dog, you need to obtain an ESA letter from a mental health professional. Interested in finding out more? Check out our blog for all the details.

How to get an ESA letter

To obtain an ESA letter, here are steps you can follow:

  1. Contact a licensed mental health professional such as a therapist or psychiatrist to discuss your need for an emotional support animal.
  2. Schedule an appointment with the mental health professional for an evaluation to determine if an emotional support animal would benefit your mental health.
  3. During the evaluation, be prepared to provide information about your mental health history, symptoms, and how having an emotional support animal could alleviate your condition.
  4. If the mental health professional determines that you qualify for an emotional support animal, they will issue you a formal ESA letter stating your need for an emotional support animal.
  5. Ensure that the ESA letter includes their professional letterhead, licensing information, and is signed by the mental health professional.

Dog breeds that make the best ESAs

Certain dog breeds are well-suited to be Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) due to their loyal and gentle nature. Breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Beagles are known for their affectionate and calm demeanour, making them excellent companions for individuals in need of emotional support.

Additionally, German Shepherds and Border Collies possess a strong sense of loyalty and are highly trainable, which can be beneficial qualities for ESA work. These breeds often exhibit the characteristics required to provide comfort and companionship to those struggling with mental health challenges.

When considering an ESA, it is essential to choose a breed that aligns with the individual’s needs while also being well-suited for providing emotional support.

The right breed plays a crucial role in ensuring the effectiveness of an Emotional Support Dog’s assistance. Certain breeds possess natural traits that make them particularly adept at fulfilling the role of an ESA by offering unwavering support and comfort to those dealing with emotional struggles or mental health conditions.

Selecting a suitable breed lays the foundation for a successful partnership between owner and dog when seeking emotional solace.

Finding a qualified trainer

To ensure your emotional support dog receives the best training, finding a qualified trainer is essential. Consider the following factors when looking for a trainer:

  1. Experience: Look for a trainer with experience in specifically training emotional support dogs to understand the unique requirements.
  2. Certification: Ensure the trainer holds relevant certifications from recognised associations such as the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP).
  3. Positive Reinforcement: A good trainer uses positive reinforcement techniques such as treats and praise to encourage desired behaviours.
  4. Understanding of ESA Laws: The trainer should have knowledge of laws governing emotional support animals, including the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
  5. Tailored Approach: Seek a trainer willing to tailor their training methods towards your dog’s individual needs and your specific mental health condition.
  6. References: Request references or testimonials from previous clients to gauge the effectiveness of their training methods.
  7. Patience and Compassion: Look for a trainer who demonstrates patience, empathy, and can foster a supportive environment for both you and your dog during training sessions.
  8. Ethical Practices: Ensure the trainer upholds ethical practices, avoiding any forms of coercion or negative reinforcement during training.

Finding a qualified and empathetic trainer is crucial in providing effective emotional support dog training tailored to meet your specific needs.

Frequently asked questions

Finding a qualified trainer and understanding the ins and outs of emotional support dog training can lead to a lot of questions. Here are some frequently asked questions about training emotional support dogs:

  1. What is the difference between an emotional support dog and a service dog?

    An emotional support dog provides comfort and support to individuals with mental health issues, while a service dog is specifically trained to perform tasks for people with physical or psychiatric disabilities.

  2. Do all emotional support dogs need formal training?

    While emotional support dogs do not require specific training like service dogs, basic obedience training can enhance their ability to provide support and comfort.

  3. Can any breed be trained as an emotional support dog?

    Yes, any breed can potentially be trained as an emotional support dog, but certain breeds are more commonly selected due to their temperament and suitability for providing comfort.

  4. How long does it take to train an emotional support dog?

    The duration of training varies depending on the individual dog, the desired level of training, and the specific needs of the handler. Some dogs may take a few months, while others may take longer.

  5. Can I train my own emotional support dog or do I need professional help?

    While it is possible to train your own emotional support dog with dedication and resources, working with a professional trainer can ensure effective and tailored training for both you and your canine companion.

  6. What are some common misconceptions about emotional support dogs?

    A common misconception is that emotional support animals have unrestricted access in public places like service dogs; however, this is not always the case as they are not afforded the same legal privileges as service animals.

  7. How can I obtain an ESA letter for my pet?

    To qualify for an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter, you need to be diagnosed with a mental health condition by a licensed healthcare professional who can prescribe an ESA as part of your treatment plan.

  8. Can I register my pet online as an emotional support animal?

    There are many online registries claiming to provide official ESA registration, but these registrations hold no legal standing and don’t certify your pet as an official ESA recognised under federal law.

  9. Are there any age restrictions for becoming an emotional support animal handler?

    There are no age restrictions set forth by law for being designated as an ESA handler; however, minors may require additional documentation from parents or guardians when obtaining an ESA letter.

  10. What should I do if my landlord denies my request for reasonable accommodation regarding my ESA pet?

    If you face difficulties with housing accommodations despite having a valid ESA letter, it’s advisable to seek legal advice from professionals specialising in this area of law.

Avoiding fake ESA letters

To avoid fake ESA letters, always ensure that the letter is issued by a licensed mental health professional. Verify the details of the professional and their credentials to guarantee authenticity.

Be cautious of online services offering instant ESA letters without a thorough evaluation, as these may be untrustworthy. Research legitimate sources and consult reputable organisations or professionals within the mental health field for guidance on obtaining an authentic ESA letter.

It is crucial to verify the legitimacy of any entity providing ESA letters and not rely solely on online platforms for certification. Additionally, be wary of exorbitant fees or promises of immediate certification, as these can indicate potential fraudulent practices.

Always seek guidance from recognised mental health facilities or specialists in obtaining proper documentation for an emotional support dog.


Training your emotional support dog is a crucial step in ensuring their ability to provide the necessary comfort and assistance. Basic obedience training and deep pressure therapy are essential for enhancing your dog’s mental health benefits.

Remember, consistent training and certification are key to fully qualifying your furry companion as an emotional support animal. Seek out a qualified trainer and utilise the available resources to embark on this fulfilling journey with your loyal and supportive partner.


1. What do I need to start training my dog for emotional support?

To train your dog for emotional support, you should focus on obedience classes, ensure they are healthy, and have a calm demeanour. Dogs like pugs or Yorkshire terriers can be good choices due to their size and nature.

2. How does having an emotional support dog help with mental health?

An emotional support dog can help lessen feelings of loneliness and anxiety by providing companionship. They are great for people facing mental illnesses such as panic disorder or agoraphobia.

3. Can any breed of dog become an emotional support animal?

Yes, most breeds can be trained as emotional support animals if they have the right temperament. Purebred dogs like Welsh corgis or even mixed breeds can serve as companion animals.

4. What’s the difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs?

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with a mental disability, while emotional support dogs provide comfort through their presence without needing special training for tasks.

5. Is it necessary to register my emotional support dog?

While there is no official registry required by ADA regulations, some handlers choose to register their dogs for easier identification in public places.

6. How long does it take to train an emotional support dog?

Training time varies depending on the dog’s ability to learn new behaviours but perseverance is key; starting from housebreaking up until mastering how to behave around others could take several months.