Image courtesy of Henriet Haan @ Pixabay
An emotional support animal, also referred to as an ESA, can truly transform the life of someone suffering from a mental disability. Many people get ESAs confused with service animals, but there are a few differences between the two...
One of the main differences is that a service animal is trained to carry out specific tasks. This could be anything from helping a person be more mobile to retrieving items from around the house.
On the other hand, an ESA doesn't need to be trained to carry out specific tasks. Their presence alone is enough to provide that emotional support.
While that may be the case, if you plan on taking your ESA onto a plane or into accommodation that usually has a no-pet policy, some training is definitely required.
Here are a few commands and behaviors to get you started...
It goes without saying that an ESA should understand the “sit” command.
Because your ESA will be accompanying you while you're out and about. You will likely need your ESA to sit multiple times through the day, whether this may be at the side of the road to wait for traffic to pass, while the two of you are queuing up for something, or even while you've stopped to talk to someone.
Fortunately, “sit” is an easy command to teach.
It's easiest with puppies, but dogs of any age tend to pick this one up very quickly.
Teaching an emotional support dog how to lie down is almost as important as “sit”.
Again, this is a part of basic obedience that dogs learn quite fast.
Once you have mastered this trick at home, make sure that you practice it outdoors too. Some dogs are great at lying down on command at home, but, once they're faced with distractions from the outside world, everything they have already learned can seem to fly out the window.
It is unlikely that you will be leaving your ESA unattended anywhere, but “stay” is still a great command to teach.
This is one that can take a little time for your pooch to master, so be patient!
Begin by practicing it with short distances. Once you have done that, you can extend the distance, as well as the duration, of the “stay”.
Socialization is important for any dog, but even more so for an emotional support animal. In fact, many would say that socialization is even more important than the commands listed above.
Why is socialization so important for an emotional support animal?
Because your ESA will be coming across so many new people and dogs each day.
You need your ESA to be comfortable and friendly with them all. A reactive dog will only end up giving you more stress than support, which you definitely don't want with an emotional support animal.
Socialization is best done when a dog is young.
However, if you have adopted an older dog, it's never too late. You will probably need to begin quite slow, gradually increasing your dog's exposure to people and other animals as you progress.
What should you do if your dog really doesn't like other people or other animals?
This can be changed, but it takes time. It can sometimes take a few years.
If this is the case, you may be best off looking for another animal to be your ESA, and keep your reactive dog as juwst a pet.
Many people really rely on their emotional support animal while traveling.
Traveling can be stressful at the best of times, and this can seem even more so for people who are dealing with a mental disability.
However, if you want your dog to support you while you're traveling, this is something you will have to teach him.
Begin by slowly exposing him to different travel environments, such as:
Give your dog time to have a good sniff around, exploring each environment.
If you know that you will need to keep your dog in a crate while traveling, this is something else that you should practice.
After your dog has explored a certain place on foot, return there a few days later with your dog in a crate. Take your pooch around while he is in his crate, praising him whenever he behaves well.
Repeat that a few times before your day of travel. This will make the actual travel experience much less stressful and overwhelming for your pooch.
One thing that many people with ESAs struggle with is the barking.
One of the laws that protect ESAs is the Fair Housing Act. This states that landlords must allow an ESA to live in their accommodation, even if they don't usually allow pets.
However, if your pet is not well-behaved and disturbs other tenants, then your landlord does have the right to ask you to leave. The same applies to planes – although you can take your emotional support animal onto a plane with you, any barking or excessive noise means that you and your ESA may be asked to leave the plane.
It goes without saying that you want your pet to be well-behaved as possible...
Basic obedience is one thing, but if you have a dog who is a big barker, what are you meant to do?
The answer is...
Teach your dog how to stop barking on command!
This does take quite a bit of time, especially if your dog has been a barker for years. However, it can be done, and there is plenty of information out there to help you with this.
Although an emotional support animal does not require any specific training, it really does pay to ensure that your dog is well-behaved and attentive if you plan on using him as an ESA. It does take time and effort to get to this stage, but so long as you are working with your dog daily, you will experience consistent results as his training progresses.