10 Best Emotional Support Dog Breeds

Woman and dog
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There’s a quote by 19th-century author Josh Billings that you may have heard before: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.” We couldn't agree more, and sometimes, we need that love more than ever.

Dogs have a unique way of forming connections with humans that makes them particularly well-poised to serve as emotional support animals. In addition to unconditional love, dogs provide us with non-judgmental companionship and social support—all key foundational elements of emotional wellness. And while sharing your days with any dog can give you a serious boost to your mental health, some dog breeds are especially suited for the job.

Before diving into the best emotional support dog breeds, it’s important to define what exactly an emotional support dog is. Emotional support animals (ESAs) are those who, without any requisite training, provide their humans with therapeutic benefits. These may include relief from anxiety or panic attacks, companionship during depressive episodes, and comfort in social situations. To be considered a true ESA, a dog must be “prescribed” to an individual by a licensed health professional. This does not give them the same rights as service dogs or therapy dogs, but it may allow the individual to circumvent certain no-pet policies in housing, travel, and other areas.

All dogs can—and often do—provide their humans with important emotional support, but there are certain breed traits that make a dog more likely to excel in the role. Dogs who are gentle, well-behaved both at home and in public, and who have generally laid-back demeanors tend to top the list of ideal emotional support dog breeds. With that in mind, here are 10 breeds to consider if you are looking for an emotional support animal. 

  • 01 of 10

    American Pit Bull Terrier

    Gray pit bull
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    Let’s start the list with a breed you might not have expected to see here: the American Pit Bull Terrier. Pit bulls and Pit bull-type dogs have been misaligned for years—an unfortunate result of bad owners and bad PR. But these friendly, devoted dogs are actually incredibly well-suited to serve as emotional support animals. Like all dogs, most will require training to be fully well-behaved on and off their leash, but if you want a dog who will love and support you with fierce abandon, then a pit bull is always going to be a great choice. 

  • 02 of 10

    Golden Retriever

    Golden Retriever standing in field
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    These gentle souls have long reigned as one of the most popular dog breeds in America, both as emotional support animals and as general family pets. Their kind demeanors and overt friendliness make them a good fit for people who struggle with mental health issues, and as an added bonus they are highly trainable. Goldens want to love and be loved, and they have immense amounts of patience with those who find their way into their hearts. 

  • 03 of 10

    Labrador Retriever

    Chocolate Labrador
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    Is there anything that Labs can’t do? Check out any list of the best emotional support dogs, therapy dogs, and service dogs and you’re almost always guaranteed to see this devoted breed right at the top. Like Golden Retrievers, Labs are incredibly gentle and friendly, with a strong desire to engage and please. They are especially good choices as emotional support animals for individuals who struggle to leave their homes, as Labs love few things more than exploring the world around them or playing endless games of fetch at the park. 

  • 04 of 10

    Corgi

    Welsh Corgi
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    Corgis are more than just the preferred dog breed of the Queen of England—they’re also excellent emotional support animals. These affectionate dogs tend to be great with both other dogs and with humans of all ages, and their intelligence makes them highly open to mastering obedience training. Note however that, despite their small stature, Corgis do need a lot of exercise and attention. They’re not going to let you just lay in bed all day, which can be incredibly beneficial for those who are suffering from depression or similar ailments. 

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  • 05 of 10

    Yorkshire Terrier

    Yorkshire Terrier laying on the green grass
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    What Yorkies lack in size they make up for in fearlessness and affection. They expect a lot of attention, but they give it back tenfold, with intense loyalty to the humans whom they are closest. They’re incredibly easy to travel with, which is good news for those individuals who require their emotional support animal to accompany them on airplanes and other modes of transportation. And while Yorkies do have a reputation for being a bit tenacious, they adapt easily to change and are happy to accompany their humans wherever they go. 

  • 06 of 10

    Irish Wolfhound

    Irish Wolfhound on grass
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    Look up “gentle giant” in the encyclopedia and you may just see a picture of an Irish Wolfhound underneath it. These massive dogs (the average weight for a male Irish Wolfhound is 120 pounds, though they can get much bigger) are natural protectors, with sensitive natures that help them tune in to what their humans are thinking and feeling. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Irish Wolfhounds have a relatively short life span—just six to eight years, according to the AKC—which can be emotionally difficult for someone suffering from mental illness. 

  • 07 of 10

    Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

    Cavalier King Charles Spaniel sticking out tongue
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    The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is like a stuffed animal come to life. The breed loves to cuddle and has a friendly temperament with both adults and children. Rightfully so, they’re often referred to as the “Comforter Spaniel,” and are usually just as happy to cozy up in bed with their favorite human as they are to join them for long and lingering walks—all things that make them excellent at delivering emotional support. 

  • 08 of 10

    Chihuahua

    Dog relaxing on sofa
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    Here’s another breed that you might be surprised to see here. Chihuahuas run the spectrum in terms of temperament, and while it’s true that these tiny pups can be fearful or anxious themselves, many Chihuahuas are actually quite curious and brave. With proper socialization at an early age, Chihuahuas loving personalities translate well into the provision of emotional support, and like Yorkies, they travel easily for on-the-go companionship. They don’t require a ton of exercise, but are happy to keep their human engaged with indoor playtime and snuggles. 

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  • 09 of 10

    German Shepherd

    German Shepherd in yard
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    German Shepherds love to have a job to do, which is why they’re so often chosen as working dogs. The intelligence and eagerness to please that sets them up for other jobs also makes them strong contenders as emotional support animals. Like the other breeds on this list, German Shepherds love to engage with their humans. And with sufficient training, they can become wonderful companions in public spaces, including stressful travel environments. That training is important though—German Shepherds have a lot of energy, and need to learn effective ways to process it. 

  • 10 of 10

    Collie

    Happy border collie dog outdoors
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    A Collie is like a furry mother hen, constantly checking in to ensure that the ones she cares about are happy and secure. Most Collies are skilled at picking up even the subtlest of cues from their people that something may not be right, and are quick to swoop in and provide comfort. Because they are a herding breed, Collies do need plenty of exercise, which is actually good news for people looking for direction and distractions. Agility work and nose work are both activities that Collies excel at, and can give someone who struggles with emotional stability additional purpose and enjoyment. 

The perfect dog is out there for all who suffer from mental health issues, whether it’s one of these breeds, an entirely different breed, or a mixed breed. If you are interested in a particular breed for emotional support, look to your local shelter first or hop on to Petfinder or Adopt-a-Pet. There are many breed-specific rescue groups that specialize in these dogs, and you’ll find plenty of them in the standard shelter system as well. Look for a dog who you experience an instant connection with, and who has a temperament that aligns with what you would expect from an emotional support animal.