How to Register a Dog as Emotional Support Animal

Emotional support dog certification must come from a human licensed mental health professional.


It’s a trick! Emotional support animals are not registered in any database. What you do need is a letter from your licensed mental health professional that you need an emotional support animal.

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is any critter that provides comfort, companionship, and relief for a person who has an emotional or mental condition. Canine ESAs help their owners cope simply by being present.

These dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to aid people with disabilities. Seeing eye dogs are the most common example, but there are countless other tasks that dogs can perform to help their owners navigate daily life. For example, a psychiatric service dog might be trained to remind the owner to take their medications or guide their person to safety during a panic attack.

Emotional Support Dog Training

No specific training or certification is needed for the dog to be an ESA. Emotional support dogs do, however, need basic training and socialization, just like any other dog, so that they are not dangerous or disruptive when out in public.

Service dogs are legally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can go pretty much anywhere with their handlers. Emotional support dogs do not count as service dogs because they do not have specific training, and they do not have the same legal rights.

The primary area where emotional support dogs have extra benefits is in housing. Landlords cannot bar you from renting with an ESA and can’t charge pet fees. Some businesses and restaurants may allow ESAs access where other pets are denied, but this can vary. Airlines are no longer required to allow ESAs to fly for free.

Emotional Support Dog Certification

Rather than any sort of certification, in order to have an emotional support dog you need an Emotional Support Animal letter from a licensed medical human-health professional.

What does this mean? It means that you need to be seeing a therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist, and that professional must determine that you can benefit from having an ESA and write a letter stating that. This letter is what gives your ESA access to housing that doesn’t otherwise allow dogs.

There are many websites out there that advertise that they will register your dog as an ESA and sell you vests and badges. But these bells and whistles will get you nowhere without a legitimate ESA letter from a mental health professional.

Previous articleHow Long Is a Dog Considered a Puppy?
Next articleA Guide to the Top Antibiotics for Dogs
Kate Basedow, LVT is a long-time dog enthusiast. She grew up training and showing dogs, and is active in a variety of dog sports. She earned her Bachelors Degree in English from Cornell University in 2013, and became a licensed veterinary technician in New York in 2017. She has been writing professionally about dogs for most of her life, and has earned multiple awards from the Dog Writers' Association of America. Kate currently has three dogs at home, as well as a cat, two zebra finches, and six ducks.


  1. This is such a hot button topic in my world. Kate did a great job about explaining the difference between service dogs and ESD. That being said I personally know people who have pets they have registered as ESD, when they are really just loved pets. I love my dogs, and love to take them places with me. But IMO people who are saying their dogs are ESD when they aren’t are taking advantage of a system, which will at some point have a negative affect on people who really need their dogs to do a job.

  2. Thank you so much for this article! As a service dog handler, I receive a lot of flak from people who do not understand the difference between ESAs and service dogs. I wish more people were better educated on this subject. I appreciate your efforts to that end!

  3. I am dumbfounded as to why WDJ published this short fluff article regarding a scam perpetrated on the American public since 2011.

    In my opinion, this article lends credence to these fake, money-grabbing, businesses with the slogan “bring your PET anywhere for free” and sell vests, ID badges, and LETTERS from doctors who have NEVER seen their clients – each service demanding an additional fee.

  4. Beth Peterson I disagree. The article clarifies that you must be seeing a “therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist, and that professional must determine that you can benefit from having an ESA and write a letter stating that.”

  5. Debbie Olmsted
    The author’s statement regarding, “you must be seeing…” is false. A person seeking to purchase documentation & equipment to “register” a non-Service Dog can also purchase a letter from a provider online with NO previous contact except for the money paid.

    The entire concept is false and misleading.