Pets are part of the family. They’re there for you when you’re going through a rough time and do wonders for your mental health. Maybe you’ve been considering having a support animal to help you with a mental illness or disability but aren’t sure what steps to take. Do you need an emotional support, therapy or service animal? Should you invest in emotional support dog training for your own pet?
Keep reading to learn exactly what benefits your pets have for your mental health and the different kinds of support animals. Plus, you’ll find out how to register your pet as a support animal and what kind of training it might need.
How Do Animals Benefit Your Mental Health?
Most people seem to understand the joy and love of owning a pet. Over two-thirds of U.S. households have an animal as part of the family, and for good reason. There are a number of studies proving the mental health benefits of having an animal in your life.
Animal lovers benefit from lower blood pressure and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol just by interacting with them. People who live on their own or struggle to see friends and family are less lonely if they have a pet.
Dogs and cats are popular pets, but fish, reptiles and birds are fantastic pets for your mental health as well. Home aquariums can help you feel more relaxed, and birds may help keep older minds sharp.
What Kinds of Support Animals Are There?
As animals can be so wonderful at helping you manage your mental health and disabilities, many people have animals in a support capacity. There are three main categories of support animals. Here, we’ll explain the differences between a service dog, an emotional support dog, a therapy dog and other animals.
Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
If you struggle with mental health problems like loneliness, depression, anxiety or phobias, an emotional support animal could help you manage better. These aren’t officially trained animals to help you with daily tasks but rather help keep you calm and relaxed and reduce stress in certain situations. They also don’t have to be dogs — many people have emotional support rabbits, alpacas and even pigs! They’re not officially recognized as trained animals to help with disabilities, so they’re only able to go where pets are allowed.
In particularly stressful times, people can rely on the friendly and easygoing temperament of a therapy animal. These animals are trained in helping people feel safe, confident and relaxed in settings that may make them stressed out. They visit rehabilitation clinics, psychiatric wards, retirement communities and hospitals. People are encouraged to pet and interact with the therapy animal.
Service animals are specially trained to help people with disabilities by carrying out specific tasks. For example, a service dog could help a blind person interact with the outside world and keep them safe. They’re officially recognized by law and may be allowed in your workplace and on airplanes, among other places. Service animals are often dogs but can include other animals too.
Can You Register Your Own Pet as a Support Animal?
There’s no official register for emotional support or therapy animals. If you want your furry friend recognized, you’d need to contact a licensed therapist and discuss the benefits your pet offers for your mental health. They could then write up an official letter confirming this and that’s all you’d need to have your pet recognized.
It’s important to think about your pet’s character and personality, as some pets may not be suitable for the job. For example, if your cat hates being around lots of people, they may not enjoy being a therapy animal.
Not just any pet can be a service animal. They must be trained to assist with specific tasks for a person with disabilities, and often the owner must be trained how to work with their animal. It’s not a legal requirement to register your pet as a service animal, but doing so anyway can save confusion when you visit premises with them. You can do this by getting a letter from your doctor and registering your service animal with a specific organization that represents your disability.
Does My Dog Need Emotional Support Dog Training?
There’s no official emotional support animal training, and you’ll mostly need to do your own assessment about how you think your pet can help you and others. Emotional support and therapy animals may benefit from training, and you can consult a training center near you to find out how it could help.
For example, if you have a dog that’s excitable and may get boisterous around new people, training could help them stay calm no matter where they are.
ESA vs. Service Dog Training
Unlike ESAs, service dogs do require training in the specific tasks you may need help with if you have a disability. Again, you’ll need to assess whether your pet would make a suitable service animal or whether you could adopt another animal that’s already trained. For example, a tiny breed of dog may not be able to bring items to you if you have limited mobility, but a bigger dog might find this easier.
You can start training at home by housetraining your pet so it uses the bathroom when instructed. Taking it to new places and environments can help it get used to being able to support you when outside of your home.
Although there are service animal training programs that can help you train your pet to assist you, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t require you to provide any kind of certification as proof of your service animal’s abilities. You simply have to be able to answer two questions:
- Do you need your service animal due to a disability?
- What tasks does your animal help you achieve?
When You Need More Than a Support Animal
Animals are wonderful, irreplaceable companions. When you feel the love of your pet isn’t enough to keep you from struggling, Restore may be able to help you get back on track. Call us at (877) 594-3566 and a trained counselor will talk to you about your needs.