Do Emotional Support Animals Need Special Training Similar to a Service Dog?

Emotional support animals, commonly abbreviated at ESA’s, provide an important service for millions of Americans. They offer therapeutic benefits in the form of emotional support. Emotional support animals provide love and affection to their owners to combat conditions, including anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Are you considering getting an ESA, or do you want to have a pet you already own qualified as one? If so, there are a few things you need to know. 

It’s important to understand how emotional support animals differ from service animals. You should also know what the process is like to get one and how to get started.

If you follow all the guidelines for ESA’s, you shouldn’t run into any legal issues. But if you do, there are a variety of resources at your disposal. Here are some of the most common questions about emotional support animals and answers that can help.

Are there special schools for ESA’s?

The answer to this question is no. There are no special schools for emotional support animals, which is an important distinction between ESA’s and service animals that everyone should remember. 

Service animals must receive specialized and thorough training before they can take on the role of a service animal. Service animals train in classes to help people with disabilities complete tasks. They may be used as seeing-eye dogs for the blind, alert people to dangers, help with medication processes, and more.

ESA’s on the other hand, do not require any specialized training. Emotional support animals are not limited to just dogs and miniature horses like service animals are. You can have an emotional support cat, rabbit, a lizard, and more. For an ESA to become official, it must have an ESA evaluation letter provided to you by a mental health professional. Without it, you may not have access to the special protections and allowances made for ESA’s.

Can I train my ESA myself?

Emotional support animals do not require any specialized training to provide therapeutic benefits to their owners. Because of this, you don’t need to train your ESA yourself. However, you must develop an emotional bond with your animal.

If they are a new pet, get to know them in the following ways: 

  • Make sure they are comfortable with you. You should always treat your pet with love and respect. 
  • Learn to recognize signals and body language from your pet. This will allow you to be responsive to its emotional condition. 
  • Help them adapt to their new environment. Help your pet become acquainted with your living space and any other animals or people that live there. Purchase toys and comfortable sleeping arrangements so your pet can relax. 

The better you train yourself to be in tune with your ESA, the better it can serve you with companionship.

Do they have to be assessed before they become ESA’s?

You and your intended emotional support animal must be assessed by a mental health professional. If you pass the evaluation, then the mental health professional will provide you with a letter. The evaluation letter will act as proof that you have passed the assessment. It documents that that licensed therapist has determined the animal to be of therapeutic value to its owner.

Do you already see a licensed mental health professional? If so, discuss the possibility of getting an ESA evaluation. If not, you may be able to get an independent assessment for an ESA with a new professional. 

Once you obtain your ESA evaluation letter, keep it safe and secure. It is your ESA’s official documentation. You must have it with you if you intend to travel with your emotional support animal. The following are some of the protections that this documentation allows:

Your ESA will be allowed in no-pet housing:

Do you live or are looking to live in a dorm, apartment, or house that is pet-free? If you have a verified ESA, the property manager or landlord is required to make certain accommodations for you and your emotional support animal.

ESA’s are protected by the Fair Housing Authority (FHA). The property management company or landlord can’t impose fees on you unless your animal damages the property. Some landlords require a Third Party Verification form to be completed before they make the necessary accommodations. 

Your ESA can travel with you on airplanes:

If you have an ESA and an accompanying evaluation letter from your therapist, your ESA can fly in the cabin with your on commercial flights. You can do this without the airline charging you a pet fee. ESA’s are protected under the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA). Take note though, out of courtesy, you should always call ahead to inform the airline. Let them know that you’ll be traveling with your emotional support animal.

While ESA’s are allowed in pet-free housing and on airplanes, it doesn’t mean that they are allowed in all public spaces. This is another useful difference between ESA’s and service animals to remember: Service animals by law are allowed to accompany their owners anywhere. 

Many businesses and public places are accommodating of people with emotional support animals, but just keep in mind that some may not be.

Do ESAs need to wear any special gear, such as harnesses or clothing?

It is not required by law that your emotional support animal wear any official gear that designates them as an ESA. However, many ESA owners choose to do so. It helps alleviate the confusion that some people may experience. It may help you cut down on some of the public hassles of having an ESA.

The one thing you should carry around with you, however, is your evaluation letter. It verifies your animal as an emotional support animal.


Emotional support animals are a valuable resource for people with mental health conditions. Some people have a prejudice against them from the start. Others are quick to dismiss their effectiveness as a therapeutic presence for their owners. Before you embark on the journey to get an ESA, make sure you are educated about the laws and always carry your letter.

Register your ESA today to get started with the process!