Not all emotional support animals are equally intelligent. Just ask any ESA owner who has ever tried to teach their pet hamster to “sit!”, or their pet corn snake to “roll over!”. Trying to teach an ESA with very limited intelligence to do tricks that are beyond its basic capabilities is a frustrating and thankless task. So with this in mind, it is important to know which emotional support animal species are smart and which are not so smart. If you want an ESA that you can train to do tricks, play with, and communicate with, you will need to choose a clever animal.

Here are four highly intelligent ESAs.


A dog is one of the most intelligent emotional support animal species around. Dogs have been bred by humans to be highly intelligent specialists in many areas. Depending on the breed, dogs can herd flocks of other animals; sniff out contraband, prey animals, and lost humans; guide blind people around busy cities; guard homesteads; fetch objects; and complete obstacle courses.

Dogs are easily trained and therefore make suitable house pets, but not all dogs are equally intelligent. If you want an especially smart ESA dog, a great option is a Border Collie. Border Collies are highly intelligent because they were bred to be expert sheepherders. Golden Retrievers are also very smart dogs. They are often found working as guide dogs for the blind or as search and rescue dogs.

Overall, dogs are brainy creatures that make very stimulating emotional support animals.


Moosh - pigeon

Despite their bad reputation in big cities, pigeons are a highly intelligent breed of bird.


The humble pigeon is one of the most intelligent avian species on Earth. Pigeons are both loved and hated in an almost equal measure. Pigeon flocks tend to congregate in the main squares of big cities; from Trafalgar Square in London, England and East Gate in Chiang Mai, Thailand (and most cities in between), pigeons invade urban areas in vast numbers. For this reason, city authorities tend to hate pigeons because of the mess they create. But laypeople who visit these areas often love pigeons, enthusiastically feeding them breadcrumbs and even posing for photos with a pigeon or two perched on their head!

Whether you love or hate pigeons, you can’t deny they have proven their intelligence beyond doubt. Throughout history, pigeons have undertaken hugely important and difficult jobs on behalf of humans, such as delivering post overseas, carrying crucial messages over enemy lines during both World Wars, racing over vast distances (and winning their human owners and supports a lot of money!), and even finding shipwreck survivors lost at sea. Pigeons’ brains may be minuscule, but they are potent!


Moosh - rat

Perhaps surprisingly, rats are among the most intelligent species of emotional support animal.


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ wise and learned sensei “Splinter” was depicted as a rat for good reason. Splinter’s defining traits of poise, prudence, good judgment, and high intelligence map very accurately onto real-world rats. Rats are one of the smartest emotional support animal species around. They have very powerful little brains that are capable of advanced deduction, foresight, memory formation, learning, and planning. A rat will learn from experience and then remember the lessons it has learned.

An emotional support rat will be a highly social pet. They love to interact with humans; playing, exploring, wrestling (gently!), and connecting. It is very easy to bond with an emotional rat because a rat’s intelligence will allow it to play intrepidly for hours on end. Rats are curious; they adore tackling obstacle courses that their human owners have set for them, and they love to sit up on their human friend’s shoulder (or head) in order to explore the world from a better vantage point.

Pot-Bellied Pig

Pigs are becoming very popular as emotional support animals all over the United States and beyond. A big reason for the rise in popularity of ESA pigs is their high level of intelligence. Pot-bellied pigs may even be slightly more intelligent than dogs (hopefully this does not offend any highly intelligent Border Collies who happen to be reading this article!). “Babe” being the exception that proves the rule, pigs don’t have the anatomy to perform jobs for humans such as hunting, guarding or herding, and so the high intelligence of pigs has gone largely unheralded. But the pig’s high IQ and lively brain are well-known amongst people who make it their business to know about such things, such as vets, zookeepers, and farmers.

Pigs are very social animals and they enjoy human company. Their high level of intelligence means they can tackle any obstacle course a smart dog can tackle, although usually not quite as speedily (pigs have short legs!). They can play fetch and be easily trained to do tricks and live without any problems in human homes. For this reason, the pig is an ideal and highly intelligent emotional support animal species.