Emotional support dogs are a new form of therapy for people afflicted with mental disorders. Though they receive no specific training, unlike therapy dogs, emotional support dogs are beneficial to their owners simply by being around. Their comforting presence helps calm the minds of people suffering from conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar or PTSD to name a few. Although ESAs are not strictly limited to dogs, as the old saying has it, they are a man’s best friend, so naturally they’re the optimum choice for a comforting companion.
But, as with any dog, the question becomes: which breed? You want the best breed for the task at hand (being a general support pet), but you also want a breed that you respond to, that you enjoy being around and, most important of all, has a good temperament. Here’s a rundown of four popular breeds of emotional support dog; you’ll notice that there’s a lot of crossover with traditional working dogs as they make excellent therapy pets.
One of the most popular breeds of dog both here in the U.S. and across the pond in the UK, the Labrador is a tried-and-tested favorite and comes with a sterling reputation. Long considered a perfect family dog due to its even temperament and playful, easy-going nature, the Labrador also has a long history as a working dog in all kinds of industries. They’re a smart breed of mutt, whose high intelligence can be put to work across a spectrum of task. Their attentiveness and loyalty make them a perfect choice for therapy dogs, guide dogs and of course, emotional support dogs.
Another firm favorite of the dog world, the beautiful Golden Retriever is considered to be generally kind, friendly and confident. They enjoy being active, going for long walks and running, which can help their owners get out and about for an hour or two a day. They’re also a patient breed, which means a lot when working with the emotionally-disabled.
Fierce-looking, but fiercely loyal to their owners and family, the German Shepherd is another strong choice for an emotional support dog. They have a long history of working alongside the emergency services and military, and this bred-in expertise can be easily translated to therapy and support work. Very smart, patient and protective, the German Shepherd is an excellent choice of breed for veterans afflicted with PTSD symptoms. They’re also active, and will encourage their owners to bring them outside to run and explore.
The Pug, though not traditionally a working dog, makes a great emotional support pet. One reason is because they look funny. It’s very hard to be depressed when you’re staring into the compressed face of a happy Pug. They are blessed with a charming, good-natured personality, and although they’re strong willed, rarely get aggressive. One feature which makes them particularly adept at being emotional support pets is a sensitivity to their owner’s mood; their own temperament can depend on how their masters are feeling.