Companion Dog Requirements 101

Key Point

  • Many people who suffer from emotional issues such as depression and anxiety find help with a companion dog.

  • Some dog breeds have better traits than others to be a good companion dog. 

  • It’s important to consult with a mental health professional and a certified companion dog trainer to help you narrow your choice down.

  • Before your dog receives their companion dog registration, they must pass the companion dog requirements assessment and prove they are suitable for the task.

Having a companion dog is one of the most rewarding experiences for individuals who suffer from various ailments. A companion dog provides comfort and companionship and helps improve quality of life. While many breeds serve as wonderful companion dogs, how do you know which breed suits your needs? 

This article provides information on the benefits of having a companion dog, what companion dog requirements are, the process of acquiring a companion dog certification, and which breeds may be the most suitable for you.

What Is a Companion Dog?

When people think of "companion" dogs, they often think of small, fluffy lap dogs sitting on the couch with their owners all day. In reality, any dog breed may be a companion animal. The most important factor is not the size or breed, but rather the bond between the owner and the animal and the animal's ability to provide comfort, peace, and companionship to the owner.

Companion, Emotional Support, and Service Dogs

Even though all these dogs help their owners, it’s important to understand their differences because these three classifications of  animals have different responsibilities and legal rights. Companion dogs are the same as emotional support dogs, also known as emotional support animals (ESA) and comfort dogs. These animals provide comfort and unconditional love to their owners. Although some understand specific commands to help their owners, they usually do not have special training.

On the other hand, service dogs must undergo vigorous training to help their owners in a specific way. Because their owners need their service at all times, these dogs enjoy more legal rights and are under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What Makes a Pet a Companion Animal?

When considering what makes a pet a companion animal, consider their temperament. A companion dog requires an even-tempered disposition and must not exhibit any aggression or destructive behavior. The pup also needs to enjoy spending time with their owner – whether cuddling, strolling, or hanging out together.

Woman reading to dog

Aside from being affectionate to their owners, a companion dog must be social and friendly towards other humans, whether they are strangers, acquaintances, or family members. They also need to be friendly to other animals without being overly reactive.

Trainable and Observant

Having a dog who’s willing to learn and respond to different important commands makes living with them easier. Additionally, when dogs are more observant and attentive to their owners' moods, they are better at providing emotional support and comfort when it is most needed.

Benefits of Having a Companion Dog

Dogs help their owners become more active. The CDC states that owning a dog "increases opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize." Because dogs need to relieve themselves several times daily, owners must go outside for a walk. These mini-walks usually help them exercise while catching fresh air, clearing their minds, and reducing stress.

Mental Benefits

When owners stroke and hug their dogs, both parties release oxytocin. These "love" hormones usually release when mothers hug their babies or when lovers cuddle. They make both owners and dogs feel loved while reducing stress and anxiety. 

Studies also show that simply spending time with a dog releases dopamine and serotonin. The dopamine "feel good" hormone increases happiness, pleasure, and reward, while the serotonin "mood" hormone helps owners feel more emotionally balanced and mentally focused. For individuals who suffer from depression due to low serotonin levels, companion dogs help them recover faster.

Emotional and Psychological Benefits

Having a companion dog is especially beneficial for people with disabilities. For instance, dogs often act as companion animals to help autistic individuals improve their social skills and emotional stability. They also offer support and comfort to seniors who live alone. 

By offering unconditional love and attention, companion dogs help their owners feel less isolated and wake up with a purpose each morning. With an adorable dog by their side, these individuals have more chances to break barriers and engage with others in society.

Are You Qualified To Have a Companion Dog?

To qualify for a companion dog, you must receive a diagnosis from a licensed mental health professional who certifies that you currently suffer from mental or emotional difficulty. After receiving the diagnosis and certification, contact a licensed dog trainer to help you find the perfect companion dog for your needs.

Man with dog in backpack

How To Register Your Dog as a Companion Dog

Even though there’s no official emotional support animal registration process, receiving the recognition letter allows you to bring your companion dog into certain public places, various housing situations, and on most airline flights. However, check on your local state and city ordinances to ensure your rights before heading out with your pooch.

Process of Registering Your Dog

If you already own a dog and believe they have the chops to become your companion animal, take them through the certification process. When you contact a licensed certification program trainer, have them assess whether your dog meets all the requirements. The trainer usually runs your dog through temperament trials, behavior evaluations, and obedience tests.

Upon completing the process, your pooch is now a certified companion dog. Afterward, contact an official third-party organization, such as the ESA Registration of America, to register your dog officially as a companion animal and receive an official certificate ID to prove your companion dog's status.

Dog Breeds Suitable as Companion Dogs

If you don't already have a dog and are looking for one to become your faithful companion, how do you know which breed best fits your lifestyle and personality? Aside from an easygoing personality and high intelligence level, you need to consider the dog's size and grooming needs. Their energy level and activity requirements are also important. 

Here are some top breeds to consider:

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Five Companion Dogs for Anxiety

Anxiety robs people of their joy to live a healthy, fulfilling life. It also affects their daily routine, resulting in avoiding certain social activities and panicking over life decisions – even relatively insignificant ones. However, these five companion dog breeds may help you regain control of your life and restore peace.

French Bulldog

Frenchies are charming, sociable, and patient. They constantly look at your facial expression and know when you need cuddling to kick the sudden anxious feelings away. They also help you ease into social settings, ensuring you feel safe.

Boston Terrier

Boston terriers are the embodiment of the perfect companion dogs. After all, this is the purpose of these pooches. They are quiet and gentle, and they love spending every moment of their time with you. Given the opportunity, they always have part of their bodies, whether it is their paw, chin, or bum, touching you to ensure you feel safe.

Boston Terrier as a companion dog

Yorkshire Terriers

During World War II, Dr. Charles Mayo brought his Yorkshire terrier to the field to treat injured naval officers. His little pooch became a constant comfort and support for everyone around him. Although these pups are a bit bossy, they are affectionate and loyal. Their strong observation skills make them your best protector.

Labrador Retriever

Labrador retrievers are among the most popular options as service and emotional support dogs. They’re smart, gentle, and patient, making them suitable for all owners. Although they love to play, they are extremely loyal and willing to stay by your side instead of chasing after a ball. As a result, they easily sense when you need comfort and provide you with attention immediately.

Japanese Chin

The chins have always been the perfect companion to women and children. They're quiet, affectionate, and sensitive to their owners' moods and know how to calm you down. Unlike most of their dog cousins, they like to keep themselves clean and love the grooming process. In return, they reward you with their undying loyalty and companionship.

Japanese Chin dog

Five Companion Dogs for Depression

Depression makes it hard to brave the world and find life enjoyable. A goofy and affectionate companion dog is a great force to combat those feelings of loneliness. 

Here are five suitable companion dog breeds for depression:

Welsh Corgi

Seeing the corgi butt wiggling back and forth makes anyone giggle. These intelligent, mischievous pups are always up for a good time, but they're also exceptional at providing undying loyalty and emotional connection with their owners. It’s why even the Queen of England was such a fan of this breed.

Owner with Corgi dog

Golden Retriever

No breed is more loyal and friendly than golden retrievers. With a high intelligence, laid-back attitude, and willingness to please and take instructions, they make the number one choice as companion dogs for any mental health ailment. 


Although these sour face pooches look like they're always on the verge of bursting into tears, they’re full of love and positivity. They love anything and everyone. Their silly personality and eager snorting help brighten anyone's day. Pugs have a special snuggling ability that makes them seem like little humans wrapping their front paws around your shoulders.


Pekingese falls into the ugly-cute group. These Ewok-like dogs have huge soul-searching eyes and a permanently concerned look that makes them lovable. Combined with their positive personalities and patience, they’re relentless in caring for you and cheering you up.

Five Companion Dogs for Seniors

Smaller size breeds with a lower energy level and easygoing personalities tend to be a better fit for seniors. Because of their size, these five companion dogs are excellent options for seniors:

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

These doe-eye pups are sweet, gentle, and affectionate. They love nothing more than snuggling on your lap and offering love and support. With a low-energy level, they’re the perfect companions for seniors who need short walks daily. 

For active seniors, consider enrolling these little guys in American Kennel Club AKC Companion Dog Sports training. Their small size makes them natural for agility training.

Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus are famous for their perky and friendly personalities. They love following their owners and participating in every activity, whether curling up a lap, going for walks, or working for a treat. Although they need regular grooming, daily brushing gives seniors a sense of purpose.

Miniature Poodle

Miniature poodles are extremely intelligent and cuddly. They’re exceptional at learning new tricks and love making their owners laugh. Although they’re sometimes demanding, they always make you feel needed and loved.

Miniature Poodle dog with companion

Coton du Tulear

Don't let these cotton balls fool you. These pups have a strong aptitude for learning commands. Although they love playing games, they love spending them by your foot or curling on your lap.

West Highland White Terrier

Westies are full of life and quick wits. They excel at learning new tricks and making you laugh. Although they’re mischievous at times, they are always loyal and caring. If you need a little companion that bounces along to whatever activity you do without complaints, these pups are just the right choice.

Let a Companion Dog Help You

If you suffer from depression or other emotional problems making you feel lonely and isolated from society, consider getting a companion dog to assist you. Talk to your family physician and get an assessment and certification from a mental health professional to begin registering your furry friend as a companion dog.

If you need a dog, contact a certified companion dog trainer and let them help you narrow your choice down to find a companion dog perfect for your lifestyle and needs. Instead of rushing your decision, do your research and make sure you are ready for the commitment. As much as a companion dog is your assistant, they require regular grooming, feeding, and love. 

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