6 Best Dog Breeds for Emotional Support

While any animal may provide emotional support, there are a handful of dog breeds seemingly made for the job.

Feb 29, 2024By Maya Keith
best dog breeds for emotional support

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) may not have the same rights and recognition as service animals, but they play a major role in assisting those with emotional challenges. While any animal can be an emotional support animal, dogs seem naturally inclined to the position.

The best emotional support dog is the one that forms a deep bond with you, but there are some breeds that slip into the role more easily. These breeds tend to be calmer, easier to train, and more receptive to human emotions.

In this guide, we explore the best dog breeds suited for emotional support!

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

cavalier king charles spaniel
Image Credit: chaddavis.photography, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For some, the cute face of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel may be enough to put their nerves at ease. For others, the “Charlies’” gentle, intuitive nature works wonders as a therapy animal.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels adapt well to most spaces, meaning those in cities won’t have to worry about accommodating a much larger breed. They form strong bonds with their person, but get along well with small children and other pets in the home.

Great Pyrenees

great pyrenees
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The Great Pyrenees comes in on the other end of the size spectrum. They’re very intelligent and content with a less-active lifestyle, but require early training and socialization to curb guardian behaviors counter-productive to the emotional support role.

Otherwise, Great Pyrenees are gentle giants perfectly content to lay down while you brush through their thick coat. Their patience is a virtue, and they complement most lifestyles.

Labrador and Golden Retrievers

yellow labrador retriever
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Labradors are one of the most popular dog breeds for a reason. Their loyalty is unparalleled, and most Labradors have kind, affectionate natures. They’re always ready for attention, but also content with sitting at home and spending the weekend binging your favorite show.

This food-motivated breed is easy to train, and their short coat doesn’t require any specialized maintenance. Furthermore, their large size and cuddly nature makes them a perfect candidate for deep-pressure therapy.

Golden Retrievers are a similar candidate with slightly greater care needs. They’re just as social and compassionate as the lab, and even more gentle, but have long double coats that may not be ideal for every situation.

Both breeds are praised for their reliability as emotional support companions, and they’re a top choice for more structured service dog positions.

Standard Poodle

black standard poodle
Image Credit: Dorian Wallender from Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Standard Poodles are a top pick for emotional support and other therapy tasks, but Miniature Poodles shouldn’t be overlooked.

While the high-energy working breed needs more attention and stimulation (both physical and mental), their intelligence allows them to dissect human emotions quickly. The breed holds its composure well, and they can easily learn to perform tasks around your home (bridging the gap in some of those enrichment needs).

Poodles are also “hypoallergenic”, meaning they shed less than others. With the right grooming schedule, they may be the best choice for those sensitive to pet dander.

While it’s not a guarantee, Standard Poodles are one of the longest-living breeds. All dogs live unfairly short lives, but the heartbreak may not happen as often with a Standard Poodle for emotional support.

Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis

cardigan welsh corgi
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Corgi popularity has boomed in recent years, and it's easy to see why. This short-legged breed is a joy to witness, beaming with positivity and energy, but they also form deep bonds with their owners.

Corgis come in two varieties: the Pembroke, with the docked tail, and the Cardigan, with the longer bushy tail. Both provide great emotional support, with the slightest differences in build and grooming requirements.

Despite their small height, Corgis were originally bred for herding and need regular exercise to ward off stress-inducing behaviors. Otherwise, they’re pleasant companions who are more than happy to join you everywhere.

Shih Tzu

shih tzu
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The Shih Tzu is an the perfect apartment dog, best suited for those who spend most of their time inside and those who want a companion small enough to join them everywhere. From plane rides to hotel stays, they want to be with you.

They wear their heart on their sleeves, expressing their emotions with their large, dewy eyes. While they can’t squeeze the anxiety out of you like a Lab or a Pyrenees might, a Shih Tzu will do everything they can to stick by your side (or on your lap).

The Mandarin name “Shih Tzu” means “little lion” in English, and these small dogs certainly have the heart of the big cat. Keeping their long mane tame is a must, but they’re otherwise easygoing and eager to please.

Maya Keith
By Maya Keith

Maya is a lifelong animal lover. While she switched from studying veterinary medicine to English, she continues to help by fostering animals in her community. Her permanent residents include 3 dogs, 2 cats, 5 quail, 19 chickens, and a small colony of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.