A Comprehensive Guide to Getting a Companion Dog

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Key Points

  • The first step in how to get a companion dog is getting an emotional support animal prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional.

  • To get a companion dog, you must assess your mental and emotional health and determine whether the animal is essential to alleviate symptoms of your disability.

  • The cost, space requirements, and energy level are key factors to consider before picking a companion dog.

A companion dog provides emotional support and assistance to those who suffer from various mental or psychological disabilities. If this is the first time you have ever heard of a companion dog, this comprehensive guide explains everything about companion dogs, including how to get a companion dog and what factors you need to consider before you search for your perfect canine companion.

What Is a Companion Dog?

Companion dogs serve as a source of comfort and assistance to their owners. They help their owners better manage their mental health and emotional issues by providing unconditional love and companionship. Companion dogs are the same as emotional support animals (ESA) and emotional support dogs.

Companion dogs are not service or therapy dogs. These animals do not need any special training to assist their owners' conditions. Their presence is enough to provide therapeutic benefits to their owners. Whether they have permission to enter public places and transportation depends on state and city regulations. The best way to find out is to contact your local law enforcement.

Conditions That Qualify You for a Companion Dog

The first step in getting a companion dog is determining if a person's condition qualifies. Generally speaking, any mental, emotional, or psychological disability may serve as grounds for needing a companion dog.

Girl with companion dog

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders take many forms, from generalized anxiety disorder to social anxiety disorder.

In any case, if you suffer from these conditions, you may find relief in having a companion dog by your side at all times. Not only does your furry companion provide you with much-needed moral support, but also their presence helps alleviate symptoms like panic attacks and irrational fears.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, are debilitating conditions that may prevent individuals from leading fulfilling lives.

Having an ESA around helps lift moods with their conditional love and comfort during difficult moments. Companion dogs also encourage people suffering from mood disorders to engage in activities they usually avoid due to lacking motivation.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities may affect people in different ways, but they all have one thing in common — the feelings of constant frustration and low self-esteem.

An emotional support dog helps provide structure and stability when things seem overwhelming. They remind you to take smaller steps to reach goals and offer great accomplishment in the smallest successes.

Neurological Disorders

For those suffering from neurological disorders like Tourette's, autism, or attention deficit disorder (ADHD), stress is often a trigger that complicates symptoms.

Having a companion dog to reduce stress greatly helps you manage these conditions. ESA also assists in reducing sensory overload, a major issue for many with neurological disorders.

Companion dogs also allow children with ADHD to manage their time and create better focus strategies. Many find that having an ESA provides better structure in their lives. Instead of overthinking, concentrating on much shorter goals allows them to stay on task much easier.

Woman with dog on lap

Chronic Stress

You may often feel like you're walking on eggshells while struggling through your daily life. You may find that you get worked up easily over minor things and are constantly in a state of turmoil. These are just some common symptoms of chronic stress.

This is where companion dogs excel at their jobs. By petting and cuddling with these adorable furry pals, their owners benefit from changing their hormone levels. This, in turn, helps them release tension.

Another way companion dogs help with chronic stress is by offering unconditional love and companionship. Individuals suffering from chronic stress often find themselves alone, as many people don't understand their conditions and assume they're just being difficult. If you suffer from chronic stress, a companion dog may allow you to feel that someone always has your back no matter what happens. Having this sense of comfort provides you with a great sense of security and emotional stability.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

"About 5 out of every 100 adults (or 5%) in the U.S. has PTSD in any given year. In 2020, about 13 million Americans had PTSD. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men. About 8 of every 100 women and 4 of every 100 men will have PTSD at some point in their lives."

Although many people associate PTSD with veterans, anyone can develop PTSD after a traumatic event.

PTSD is an extremely difficult condition to keep under control, especially for individuals lacking social support networks in their lives. Usually, a service dog is more advantageous if you suffer from severe cases of PTSD where you require the dog to intervene in situations actively. However, if your PTSD is less severe, a companion dog may be enough to offer you a constant comforting presence.

Having a furry companion by your side drastically reduces anxiety and loneliness, thus allowing you to face your fears and live a more fulfilling life.

Social Phobias

Social phobias are crippling, preventing individuals from enjoying their lives and interacting with others. The downward spiral of negative thoughts, anxiety, and stress easily produces depression and other mental and health illnesses.

If you suffer from social phobia, a companion dog may give you the extra confidence you need when socializing. If you usually find it difficult to attend events or even venture outside for your daily tasks, having a companion dog by your side allows you to feel more secure and comfortable even when you are in an unfamiliar environment.

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Panic Attacks

An emotional support dog is a godsend if you suffer from panic attacks. They are observant and intuitive, allowing them to detect your panic attacks before they begin. Instead of spiraling into full-blown panic attacks, you learn to pick up your companion canine's signal and focus on calming down instead of remaining in a state of panic.

Other times, companion dogs may provide deep-pressure therapy to you by lying across your lap or over your chest. The pressure, the dog's breathing, and the familiar smell allow you to reduce the panic attack symptoms.

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Benefits of Having a Companion Dog

It is no secret that having a companion dog benefits mental health. Just hugging a dog helps lower your cortisol stress hormone level while increasing serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin hormones that contribute to feelings of love, positivity, and calmness.

There are also many other benefits of owning a companion dog.

Improved Physical Health

Physical health is important for everyone.

When people don't get enough exercise, they are more prone to physical and mental ailments. Having a companion dog is a great way to get motivated about exercising. Taking some time each day to walk or play with the dog is enough to help you lower blood pressure and cholesterol while increasing vitamin D production through more sun exposure.

High Self-Esteem

If you're struggling with self-esteem issues, having a companion dog is a great way to boost your confidence.

Woman in bed with her pup

Their unconditional love and acceptance work wonders on your mental state and make you feel better about yourself. In addition, knowing that you are taking good care of another living being is rewarding and builds a stronger sense of self.

Increased Socialization

Many people struggle with social anxiety and never know when or how to start a conversation with a stranger.

Having a companion dog helps break barriers and makes people more approachable. It's much easier to break into a conversation about your pup than to try and start a discussion out of the blue. Not to mention, having a companion dog shows your love of animals, which is always a great start for making new connections.

Better Structure in Life

Taking care of a companion dog provides structure in your life. By taking them out on regular walks, feeding them at specific times, and bringing them to the dog parks, all these activities form a schedule if you are one of the individuals who struggle to hop out of bed due to their depression and anxiety problems.

Improved Quality Sleep

Many people have insomnia because they overthink and worry about things out of their control. Having a companion dog by your side helps to soothe your mind and allows you to drift off into sleep more easily. Plus, your pup's deep breathing is the best white noise for a restful sleep.

Knowing When You Need a Companion Dog

If you haven't sought help from a mental health professional about your struggles, you should do so. In the meantime, here are a few key indicators that let you know you may need a companion dog:

  • You constantly feel depressed, empty, and hopeless for several weeks or longer.

  • Your depression interferes with your ability to work, study, sleep, eat, or enjoy activities you usually love.

  • You feel anxious all the time.

  • You feel lonely and isolated and have a very small social network support.

  • Your stress level is always high, and it is crippling your life.

Man with companion dog

Legal Requirements for a Companion Dog

Before you decide to bring a companion dog into your life, you must meet a few legal requirements, including obtaining an ESA letter from a mental health professional.

Navigate the Process of Getting an ESA Letter

The first step in getting an ESA letter is finding a licensed mental health professional with the legal right to prescribe your need for a companion dog. A mental health professional includes a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner, a physician's assistant, a counselor, or a licensed clinical social worker.

The next step is to connect with a professional to evaluate your situation to determine whether a companion dog benefits you. For the prescription to be legally valid, it must include the professional's letterhead with their license information and contact details, their signature, and the issue date of the prescription. In addition, the prescription needs to explain that you have a disability and that a companion dog is essential in alleviating the symptoms.

Factors To Consider Before Picking a Breed

Before picking a companion dog, there are many factors to consider. From cost and space to grooming needs and energy level, finding the right breed for you is no small feat. Consider the following crucial factors.

Cost of Keeping a Companion Dog

Financial responsibility is one of the most important factors in choosing an emotional support dog. Depending on the dog's size and grooming needs, the cost of keeping a companion dog ranges significantly as bigger dogs require more food and veterinary care.

Space Requirements

If you have limited living space, you must pick a breed that fits your living space. Even if a bigger breed has a lower energy level, the animal still needs enough room to move around the home without constantly knocking things over. Instead, a smaller breed may be a better option.

Energy Level Matching Your Needs

The ideal companion dog has a lower energy level that matches your lifestyle and is not too demanding with going outside to play all the time. This way, you are able to take leisure walks without overexerting yourself.

Their Personality vs. Your Personality

The best companion dogs are loyal and affectionate. They need to be mild-tempered and gentle in nature. Dogs that are aggressive to strangers aren't ideal candidates for an ESA. At the same time, some breeds require strict training to maintain their obedience and behavior. Be sure to pick a breed that matches your personality and lifestyle.

Woman on walk with dog

Take Your Time in Finding Your Companion Dog

You don't have to struggle with your mental and emotional illnesses alone. Getting a companion dog is a viable option to enrich your life and manage your mental health more effectively.

While it seems like a daunting task to adopt a companion dog, your mental health professional has the expertise to assist you in navigating the legal requirements. They also have many ways to connect you with associations that offer help and guidance in matching you with the perfect companion dog.

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