How to Register Dogs as Emotional Support Animals

How to register a dog as an emotional support animal largely depends on one’s circumstances. For instance, some apartment complexes require different documentation than universities. One can learn more here.

May 30, 2023By Colt Dodd
how to register dogs as emotional support animals

Here’s the most important thing to know: Emotional support animals are not interchangeable with service animals. Most places must allow service animals on the premises, per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). No establishment must allow emotional support animals. So, there’s that.

Secondly, there is no centralized database or government agency that keeps track of service dogs’ or emotional support dogs’ registration. While some entities (like leasing offices) may ask for proof of a dog’s vaccinations, they cannot ask for anything more, including that the said dog is a service or emotional support animal.

How to Register Varies from Place to Place

dog at college ESA

Some places still allow owners to have emotional support animals (ESAs) on the premises. For instance, according to Siena College, to have an ESA in a dorm room, one must have:

  • Proof of a disability-related need from a healthcare professional
  • The animal’s most recent vaccination records
  • Requests made each year

Other institutions have other policies in place. Before assuming anything about whether an establishment allows ESAs on the property, it’s best to do one’s research first.

What Most Places Require

veteran with ESA dog

As noted, every place has its own rules for registering both service and emotional support animals. In general, one must have:

  • A basic knowledge of the dog’s age and weight: Some places allow ESAs, but only if they meet certain size requirements. Typically, the smaller the animal, the more lenient the policy.
  • Information about the dog’s breed: Many apartment complexes have no problem accommodating ESAs. Yet, for liability reasons, they may restrict the allowable dog breeds. One doesn’t need to know their dog’s exact composition when registering; sometimes saying “terrier mix’ or something along those lines will suffice.
  • The dog’s most recent vaccinations: While many people consider their dogs family, these animals can still carry some serious diseases. That’s why many places require a dog’s vaccination records before allowing it. Vaccinations combat diseases, like rabies and distemper.

Finally, some establishments require handlers to fill out specific paperwork unique to the organization. For instance, these forms may free a business of liability if the ESA bites or otherwise injures another person. This is especially important. By signing a liability waiver to allow an ESA, an owner accepts financial responsibility for anything that goes awry.

What’s an Emotional Support Animal?

dog therapy ESA hospita

Per the American Kennel Club (AKC), emotional support animals (also called “ESAs”) help people with mental conditions function. While many people feel emotional connections with their pets, the main thing is that without an ESA, the disabled person could not go about their day-to-day life.

An ESA may:

  • Offer comfort with their presence
  • Provide solace in the aftermath of a traumatic event
  • Recognize the signs of mental distress
  • Accompany its owner on daily errands

American Humane notes that, as opposed to service animals, ESAs do not perform a specific task. For instance, consider a person diagnosed with panic disorder. An ESA would offer therapeutic benefits just by existing. Yet, a service animal may specifically help its owner get medications, call emergency services, or directly help with a disability.

ESA Do Not Get the Same Rights as Service Animals

As noted, under the ADA, most public spaces must allow those with service animals to access the premises. For instance, most department stores can’t deny access to someone with a service dog. Otherwise, this violates federal law.

However, this privilege is not extended to ESAs. ESAs are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means most businesses do not allow ESAs.

Emotional Support Animals Aren’t Just Dogs

There are no current legal restrictions on what may count as an ESA. In general, the animal must be manageable in public and not create a disturbance. UMass Chan Medical School notes that some common examples include:

  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Ferrets
  • Hedgehogs
  • Minipigs
  • Rats
  • Birds
  • Rabbits
  • Mice

Frequently Asked Questions About Registering a Dog as an ESA

ESA dog service pet

As one researches registering their dog as an ESA or service animal, they may wonder:

Who Has to Train a Service Dog?

Anybody can train a dog to behave in a certain manner, whether that’s to accommodate their owner’s disability or simply come when called. There are many resources online, from apps to YouTube videos, that allow dog owners to train their pets. They may also partner with a professional trainer or service to get the job done.

One thing’s for certain: under the ADA, someone cannot ask the dog to perform a certain task or “trick” on command. Take this example. A tourist wants to take their service dog on a plane. While the airline can ask to see the dog, a representative cannot ask the dog to perform a task. This violates the ADA and could make the airline guilty of discrimination.

What Can’t a Service Dog or Emotional Support Dog Do?

While property owners must make reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals, they reserve the right to ask the person and their dog to leave if:

  • The dog defecates indoors.
  • The dog threatens others’ safety.
  • The dog is reactive (for instance, barks at strangers).

Can a Dog be a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal?

Long story short: yes. A dog can help their owner live with a disability while also offering comfort and peace. However, being an emotional support animal does not automatically make a dog a service animal. Again, it must be able to perform a specific task to help its owner thrive.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.