ESA Dog 101: Finding the Best Dog Breed for Depression

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By: Lara Baines Updated: June 26, 2020

woman cuddling with her emotional support dog

There is a very good reason why emotional support animals are growing in numbers. It is a pretty accurate reflection of the growing rates of people suffering from depression and other mental illnesses. Apart from medication and psychotherapy, animals, and dogs, in particular, can make an astounding difference in an individual’s fight against depression! In this article: we want to help you find your best dog breed for depression!

The deep dark pit of depression is the loneliest place in existence. When people suffer from depression, it often feels like they have lost any and all connection to themselves and those around them. It is very difficult to connect with people when you’re in that hole, but a dog?


How Interacting with Dogs Help People Suffering from Depression

Dogs are indeed man’s best friend. They are tail-wagging, soulful-eyed, warm and furry four-legged antidepressants. It’s a proven fact gleaned from research and studies, and this is partly why: Oxytocin levels rise when dogs and humans look into one another’s eyes. Oxytocin is not only the infamous love hormone but also an antidote to depressive feelings.

Dogs also provide abundant unconditional love, regardless of your problems. The reason we are OK with dogs being around us when we’re down, and not people, is because a dog has ZERO judgment and ZERO expectations for you to be anything other than what you are: their human!

Certain breeds have proven themselves in animal-assisted therapy, as canine companions for people who suffer from PTSD and bipolar disorder, and also as emotional support and therapy dogs. Having a creature depend on you, for which you are responsible, affords one a great sense of worth.

Activity is extremely important for anyone suffering from depression. Exercising a dog stimulates an increase in serotonin and dopamine levels. So, not only does it give you a reason to get out and about for a walk and a stretch, it gets you out into the glorious fresh air.

dog breeds for depression golden retriever hugging its human

Dogs gently force us to interact with people, which may not be what most depressed people want, but it is so important to interact and connect with people when you already feel isolated, to begin with! They also provide routine, structure, and purpose in a person’s day! You may not have the strength to get out of bed and feed yourself, but you can and will do it for your dog.

The power of physical touch in healing is immense, and petting a dog does much for reducing stress. Dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure, especially in stressful situations. There are just so many ways in which interacting with a dog can alleviate depression in humans. The big question is: is there a best dog breed for depression?

Any Dog Can Become an Emotional Support Animal: Just Get Your ESA Letter!

An emotional support animal dog helps alleviate depression and symptoms of an emotional disability through companionship and affection. Only a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) can issue an ESA letter.

If you’re thinking of getting an emotional support animal, simply take Certapet’s free and quick pre-screening to check whether you qualify. If your answers indicate that you qualify for an ESA, Certapet will put you in touch with a LMHP and you could have your ESA letter in as little as 48hrs!

The Benefits of Getting an Emotional Support Animal Letter for Your Dog!

Having an emotional support animal letter in your possession holds many benefits because you are then officially protected by two federal laws!

  • Reasonable accommodation for ESAs through the Fair Housing Amendments Act or (FHA), in apartments and housing communities that ordinarily restrict pets or charge an extra fee for pets.
  • Protection under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) which prohibits discrimination of disabled individuals who want to travel by air. You will be able to take your ESA (mostly cats and dogs) on a flight with you free of charge. Just make sure you pay special attention to the requirements of an individual airline as per their ESA policy!

4 Things to Consider Before Choosing Your ESA Dog

Although worth their weight in gold as companions and for emotional support, there are a few factors that will affect the dog you choose! The best dog breed for depression is the one that checks all the right boxes for you!

  1. The suitability of the dog to your lifestyle and environment. For example, many airlines no longer allow brachycephalic breeds on flights, so if you are a frequent flyer, this is not the breed for you!
  2. The costs of owning and caring for a dog, which does not end with food and medication.
  3. Ensure that the dog is able to support you emotionally: are your energy levels and personalities a good match?
  4. Can you commit to the long-term care of a dog? Dog’s are furever!

The Best Dog Breed for Depression? Here are Our Top 10 Picks!

Besides the distinguishing characteristics of certain breeds, the needs, lifestyle, and personality of each person will best determine their ideal dog. There is a perfect ESA out there for everyone! Let’s take a look at some of the options!

1. Big Dog Breeds: The Perpetually Happy Golden Retriever 

Two must-haves for emotional support dogs is that they are people-orientated and eager to learn. You would be hard-pressed to find a breed more fitting than the Golden Retriever on both points. They are very social and offer comforting and energetic companionship. As long as you’re prepared for doggy hair in the house, they make super emotional support animals. This is a top contender in the best dog breed for depression category!

esa dog golden retriever with flower crown

2. Jack Russell Terrier: Expect Extra Energy and Extra Cuddles!

The Jack Russel Terrier’s need to socialize and play will see to it that their owners also get outside to enjoy the fresh air and to mingle with others. What could be better for someone suffering from depression then than an energetic and friendly natured Jack Russell?

No wonder they are popular as ESA dogs, especially for households with children. They are smart, fun-filled little dogs who will be a positive influence in anyone’s life, most notably anyone needing emotional support from a furry companion. These dogs may have energy in abundance, but they are hard-core cuddlers and can snuggle for hours on end!

best emotional support dogs jack russell terrier posing with flowers

3. Snuggle Pug in a Rug: Possibly the Best Companion Dogs That Exist!

Pugs have the knack of making their human feel special. These pups have gumption! They are smart, funny, even-tempered dogs. Their abundantly positive and steady nature makes them ideal emotional support animals for anyone suffering from depression.

best emotional support dog breeds pug having a nap

4. American Pitbull: A Strong Dog with a Strong Heart!

American Pitbulls make wonderful emotional support dogs. They have a strong need to please and are very loyal, loving and devoted animals. The breed-specific legislation recently implemented in many states does ban legal ownership of breeds deemed to be vicious, and (sadly and unfairly,) Pit Bulls fall into this category. It is therefore advisable to check particular state laws before committing to a bully breed as an ESA. This sweet and sensitive pup is a strong contender in the search of the best dog breed for depression!

what is an emotional support dog american pitbull with toy

5. American Staffordshire Terrier: Equal part Loyal and Loving

American Staffordshire Terriers may be small but they have energy for miles. They are great with kids and are really easy to care for, bringing all the happiness one could want without the work needed for many other breeds.

emotional dog happy staffordshire terrier jumping for joy

6. Healthiest Dog Breeds? The Velcro Dog aka Hungarian Vizsla: The Name Says it All!

Aptly named the velcro dog because of their desire to always be by the owner’s side and to follow them closely, the Hungarian Vizsla has the ideal temperament to be an ESA.

They can adapt to being energetic during therapeutic exercise and calm when required to offer emotional support. Vizslas have boundless energy and joy and fit in well in family situations. They bond easily and will always want to be close to their owner, which makes them perfect ESAs.

best emotional support animals hungarian vizsla smiling at camera

7. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: Smart Pups and the Best Lap Dogs!

As the name suggests, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was historically favored among royalty. The easygoing, affectionate nature of this gentle dog coupled with its small size and medium energy level makes it a great contender to cheer up even the most depressed owner.

They enjoy sharing their lives with children and other dogs and are equally content being on the couch as they are going for long walks with their humans.

what is an esa dog cavalier king charles spaniel running in field

8. Toy Dog Breeds to Giant! The Poodle: These Sweet and Sensitive Pups Have a Lot of Love to Share

Poodles love to play and will make you laugh with their antics. They are also highly intelligent emotional support dogs. They form a close bond with their ESA owner and are active enough to get you out walking in the fresh air.

Poodles are great with kids and socialize well with people and other dogs, making them a pleasure to cheer any family member. This best dog breed for depression comes in all shapes and sizes!

emotional companion dogs ESA poodle lying down

9. Looking for Calm Dog Breeds? Labrador Retriever: Happy Go Lucky and Eager to Please!

Labrador Retrievers rival Golden Retrievers in their position as the best dog breed for depression. They are very smart and can be trained to perform many tasks, which make them perfect emotional support dogs. They fit in well in family households with their gentle and friendly dispositions. These dogs smile. A lot. So it’s difficult to feel too sad when you are looking at a goofy, derpy, happy lab!

esa breeds happy labrador retriever derping

10. Not Exactly Rare Dog Breeds! A Rescue Dog: Whether Mutt or Designer Breed, They Will Love You Unconditionally!

An emotional support dog has the character and personality to offer comfort and companionship. Many perfect breeds such as the Catahoula Leopard dog, German shepherd, and Yorkshire terrier are not discussed but could be just right for you. There are so many rescue dogs of all shapes and sizes that need help and a home.

Don’t eliminate mixed breeds when choosing an ESA! Mutts can be the sweetest natured dogs around, and more often than not fit the bill perfectly as ESAs.

Rescue Dogs Can Make the Best Emotional Support Dogs!

It stands to reason that if you rescue a dog, it will rescue you right back! You can be sure that a rescue dog appreciates the second chance it is given when it is brought to a forever home, and it will love you all the more. If that’s even possible considering the whole “unconditional love” thing!

The Best Dog Breed for Me! Certapet’s Role in Helping People Fight Depression with Dogs

CertaPet’s aim is to allow people and their emotional support animals to lead their best lives! Together. Always. By getting your ESA letter, you will be able to fly with your ESA dog or cat and find accommodation, ensuring you will always have your canine companion with you. The first step is as easy as taking a free 5-minute pre-screening!

If your answers indicate that you may qualify for an ESA, CertaPet will put you in touch with a LMHP, and you could have your ESA letter in 48hrs! Whatever the best dog breed for depression is for you, with an ESA letter, your doggo can be with you all the time!

Common Questions on the Best Emotional Support Dog Breeds

What is an emotional support dog?

What dog should I get if I have depression?

Which breeds make the best indoor dogs or good house dogs?

Which breed is likely to be a good therapy dog?

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