Do Pets Need Special Training to be an Emotional Support Animal?
No, there is no such thing as emotional support animal training programs.
An emotional support animal (ESA) can be any type of dog (from Poodles and German Shepherds to Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers) and even other pets like cats, birds, and miniature horses.
Emotional support animals are assigned to people with mental disabilities, and their purpose is to improve the owners’ mental health through mere presence. Therefore, pets don’t need special emotional support animal training to be qualified as ESAs.
However, the pet will not be considered an emotional support animal if you do not procure legal rights through a legitimate ESA letter stating it.
This ESA letter is the only official document that validates your pet as an emotional support animal. You can get the letter in three hassle-free steps from a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP) online at https://www.certapet.com/.
Although emotional support dogs and animals do not require special training, their behavior must be acceptable in public places. Harmful behaviors can trigger the removal of the emotional support animal status.
What’s the Difference Between Emotional Support Animal Training and Service Dog Training?
The service animal vs emotional support animal training is different because they serve different purposes.
An emotional support animal is primarily meant to provide company to the owner; thus, no special emotional support animal training is required. Whereas a service dog is expected to carry out certain tasks for the owner and thus, requires thorough and specialized training.
Service dogs can be trained by the owner and do not require a professional dog trainer. A service dog needs to undergo comprehensive training programs in the following areas:
- Alertness. Service dogs should be alert about their surroundings and not react to stimuli unnecessarily. This trait will develop after a long time of dedicated training.
- Calm and Steady. Naturally, most dogs tend to be curious and restless. However, a service dog must be trained to become calm and steady, regardless of the situation.
- Task Performance. A service animal’s purpose is to help its owner with certain daily tasks. Let it be fetching the newspaper for you or helping you cross the road. A service dog must be trained to perform particular tasks repetitively until they come naturally.
- Learning and Retaining Information. When assigned to people with some mental conditions like schizophrenia, autism, and traumatic brain injuries, the service dog has to retain important information to help their owners whenever needed.
- Obedience. Service dogs need to be obedient and eager to please their owners. If your dog becomes used to getting appreciated or getting treats for doing their tasks correctly, they will be urged to please their owner every time and hence take care of the tasks without fail.
- Socialization. Service dogs are allowed in all public spaces and flights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Thus, it is normal to take your service dog to public spaces. Your dog needs to be well trained to be calm and social in unfamiliar settings to prevent causing any problems.
What Kind of Support Can an Emotional Support Animal Provide?
Emotional support animals have a lot of benefits even though they don’t need any training. Here are some of the general support that an emotional support dog training can provide with specific tasks, irrespective of the species, breed, and size:
- Calming when you Feel Agitated. Feelings of irritation or restlessness are common in most individuals suffering from mental health conditions. Having your emotional support animal near you or just petting them can calm you down.
- Diminishing Anxiety Disorders. Anxiety can be chronic or acute. In any case, anxiety has major effects on the daily lives of individuals. Holding your emotional support animal or playing with them can distract you from your post-traumatic stress disorder and help you feel better.
- Helping Manage Panic Attacks. Panic attacks come unprecedented, and not much can be done to stop them completely. However, the presence of an emotional support animal can provide reassurance and support during such times.
- Alleviating Loneliness. This is surely the best benefit of a psychiatric service dog. Therapy dogs tend to get attached to their owners affectionately. The more time you spend with them, the more attached they grow. This attachment can have a major positive effect on loneliness.
- Reducing Chronic Stress. Chronic stress tends to keep people agitated and on their toes all the time. Having a companion animal will relieve the feeling of stress and excessive worrying.
- Improving Depressive Mood. Good company is the best cure for depressive mood. An emotional support animal provides unconditional love and company, which can gradually uplift your depressive mood.
- Enhancing Social Life. Taking your emotional support animal out with you can be a conversation starter or a way of bonding with others.
- Reducing Anxiety Pain. Anxiety attacks or panic attacks include sharp pain in the neck or spine at times. But this pain has a psychological origin rather than physical. Having an ESA can help you get distracted from the feeling of pain. This is a given as emotional support animals help reduce anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, and stress, all associated with increased blood pressure.
- Normalizing Heart Rate. The calm feeling as you hold on to your emotional support animal normalizes your heart rate, especially if you’ve been anxious before.
What Can You Teach an Emotional Support Animal?
Although emotional support animal training is not necessary, the more you work with them, the more helpful they can be. Thus, you can train your emotional support animal with some basic therapy strategies to help you in difficult times.
Teaching Your ESA Deep Pressure Therapy
Deep pressure therapy is a proven way of releasing anxiety and stress or helping overcome panic attacks. Massagers and tools help you with this therapy, but assistance animals can also be trained to do the same for you.
Deep pressure therapy involves the application of moderate pressure on the body by hugging, cuddling, stroking, or wrapping. This can calm down the nervous system whenever you feel anxious or panicked.
Here is how you can train your assistance dogs to perform deep pressure therapy:
- The Lap Method. In this case, the emotional support animal will jump to your lap and cuddle. You can train basic obedience to them by sitting on a chair and patting your lap encouragingly to give them the signal. Or place a treat that they love on your lap. In either case, do not forget to reward them if they perform the task.
- The Chin Method. In this method, your emotional support animal must rub their chin or nose on your foot or arm. You can similarly encourage them to perform this task by rewarding them with treats or appreciation.
- The Stroking Method. In this method, your ESA dog breed needs to stroke your arm or foot with their paws/arms. You can gently tap on your arm to indicate the motion to them, and if they perform the task, reward them with a treat.
It is important to note that the treats should only be provided the first few times, after which your guide dogs should perform the tasks based on the cue irrespective of getting a treat.
Teaching Your ESA Basic Commands
As mentioned earlier, the emotional support animal status can be revoked if your animal exhibits rash behavior. Therefore, emotional support animal training is imperative, at least when it comes to basic commands. Here are some basic commands and emotional support animal training that a dog owner can provide.
- Potty Training. You can use the command “go potty” to train your dog to release their excreta in a specific location. When you see your emotional support relieving themselves in any other location, point to the dedicated location with your finger and say “go potty” three times and wait for them to obey you. Do this every time your emotional support animal relieves itself elsewhere.
- Sit and Stay. While your mental illness animal sits, look at them and say affirmatively, “stay.” Take a few steps back while saying this. If they remain in their position, reward them for staying.
- Recall. You can use the command “come” or “here” to help them recall the location of things or the task associated with this command. To train them, first, excite them with a treat in your hand. As they approach, you say the command and indicate the task. If they perform the task, give them the treat. Repeat this multiple times.
- Leave It. Using this command, you can train your emotional support animal to let go of things. First, place a treat on your palm. As they approach you, close your fist. Keep it that way and say the command until they leave it. If they leave it, give them the treat.
- Down. You can use this command such that your emotional support animal puts its head down or sits near the ground. First, take a treat in your hand, then keep it 6 inches away from their nose. As they approach the treat, keep lowering your hand until they lower their body. Give them the treat if they stay that way for a few seconds.
- Settle. This obedience training command teaches your emotional support animal to calm down if they are restless. Use treats and indicate them to lay down or sit and look you in the eye. If they do so and remain calm for a while without moving, give them a treat.