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One of the things I love about having dog loving friends is that I get to be introduced to all sorts of dogs – and I’m not just talking about the breeds! Sometimes I meet sporting dogs, like Cadence the Whippet. Sometimes I meet lovable family pets, working dogs who live on farms, and even bomb-sniffing dogs. A few days ago, I got to meet a Labrador who volunteers as a therapy dog for kids at the nearby hospitals. Her name was Lucy, and she was a total sweetheart.
Lucy’s job is pretty simple, but also kind of complex. Basically, she goes into the hospital to cheer up kids who are stuck there. But Lucy doesn’t just put a smile on the kids’ faces. She’s also been trained to pick up on human emotions and to provide specific types of affection in response to different emotions. Her owner explained it to me like this: “If Lucy can sense that a kid is just bored, she’ll be playful, bringing them toys and letting them toss her ball around. But if you walk into a room where the kid is obviously broken-hearted – just really depressed or anxious – Lucy will immediately go cuddle with them, and you couldn’t get her to chase a ball if you tried. She knows that that kid needs some extra love just then.”
That’s a pretty amazing trick to me, and it got me curious about dogs who are trained to be emotional therapy dogs. We’ve talked on the blog before about dogs who have anxiety, but today we’re focusing on dogs who HELP with anxiety. You don’t have to be in the hospital to suffer from anxiety, and you actually don’t need a doctor’s orders to get an emotional therapy dog. You can find a dog that has already been trained, or train a dog yourself to provide support for anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues. Here are the breeds that make for great therapy dogs – I think you’ll be surprised by some of them!
Although many people think of the Yorkie as a pampered lap dog, these dogs are actually known for being great emotional therapy dogs. There are a few reasons why that is. First, they love to cuddle, and their coats are silky soft. That makes these dogs great for when you need a calming hug – and also makes them very good for people who have sensory issues and are calmed by smooth textures. You’d be surprised how often sensory issues go along with anxiety, so don’t discount this particular feature of the Yorkie.
But more importantly, Yorkies have ahigh aptitude for the kind of training an emotional support dog needs. They are friendly, they love people, and they are smart enough to be trained to pick up on specific cues regarding emotions. They also tend to have big personalities, which makes them a lot of fun – perfect for cheering someone up and getting some laughs. Finally, they tend to be courageous, loyal dogs. They were actually used to help deliver supplies and messages during the World Wars, if that helps you understand just how heroic these little pups can be. That means that you don’t usually have to worry about these dogs getting overwhelmed by your anxiety the way that certain sensitive dogs might.
Finally, the Yorkie is infinitely portable, so it’s easy to bring them with you if you need emotional therapy on the go. Pack them in a pet purse and you’re off!
Prefer a bigger dog? I don’t blame you. It’s no secret on this blog that I’m a big fan of full-sized dogs, the bigger the better. My Boxers, Janice and Leroy, could never fit in a pet purse – and neither could a German Shepherd. These dogs are renown for working in all sorts of service positions, from being police dogs to sniffing out cancer. They also frequently work as emotional support dogs, and they have a lot of excellent characteristics that make them perfect for this role.
First, German Shepherds are incredibly smart. They can be trained to do all sorts of actions, and they have the right personality to go along with it. A well-trained German Shepherd is patient, gentle, and calm, as well as very affectionate. This makes them perfect for people who suffer from panic attacks and need a very calming presence nearby to keep them grounded. This is part of what makes a German Shepherd so great for emotional support.
The one thing you’ll need with a German Shepherd is a good, sturdy leash, but it’s not because the dog is difficult. Rather, it’s because many people associate German Shepherds with confrontational behavior because they’ve seen these dogs as “attack dogs” in fake police shows on TV. In order to make the people around you comfortable, a German Shepherd should be kept on a good leash.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and if that is the case, a Corgi would be an excellent dog for someone who needs healing. Corgis may be seen as a royal favorite, but these dogs tend to be lighthearted and silly creatures. That doesn’t mean they can’t be trained – on the contrary, Corgis are brilliant dogs that can be trained to do therapeutic tasks if you have a lot of patience. But above all, a Corgi is always going to want to ham it up as often as he can.
But more than that, Corgis are alert, even-tempered dogs that like giving and receiving affection. They are great if you suffer from general anxiety and need that daily reminder not to take life too seriously, or if you want a companion that you can always count on to be in a good mood. They are also great for those with disabilities or who live in nursing homes because they are small and don’t require a ton of grooming or work to care for.
Some people need a more sensitive dog that can truly pick up on their emotions and react appropriately. For people with emotional issues like PTSD, for example, dogs like the Collie can be a huge help. Collies are very smart dogs that are very intuitive to emotions. They are frequently trained to provide support to those with severe, detrimental emotional issues, and they are also great for kids due to their gentle natures. Collies also providean excellent sensory experience like the Yorkie, thanks to their very soft, dense coats.
The Collie is a gentle dog that likes to give and receive affection and seems to be just as happy being hugged as he is playing fetch. That’s a good thing for people who have shifting emotional needs – at times, exercise may be beneficial, while at other times, it may be more helpful to be still. The Collie can adapt to either. These dogs do need their long coats brushed regularly, but this can actually become a very meditative act for people, which can help with anxiety and panic attacks. Get yourself a brush that makes you feel like you are petting your dog, such as a brush glove, and you’ll have a great way to calm yourself down that the Collie will love.
Lucy, the dog I met that prompted this article, is a great testament to why Retrievers make excellent therapy dogs. First, these are the most commonly trained dogs for other types of therapy, such as guide dogs and helpers for those with physical disabilities. That should tell you right away that these dogs are smart and easy to train. The truth is that Retrievers are very eager to please, and they seem to live for making their humans feel good. They are incredibly friendly dogs that love nothing more than to be surrounded by people, or a person, that want to interact with them.
Retrievers are larger dogs, so they offer a reliable spot to lean against when you need some grounding. They are great with kids, and they tend to be very healthy dogs with long lives. This means that a young child with emotional issues will have a better chance of being with their therapy friend for many years to come. That’s a significant consideration for parents when choosing an emotional support dog.
Going back to the small breeds for a moment, the pug is a great choice for an emotional support dog if you don’t want a lot of floofy hair everywhere. If frou-frou isn’t your type, but you need a smaller dog that can be carried if necessary, the pug is your answer. These little guys are absolute characters, with funny personalities that make them easy to smile at. They are very energetic, which can be very helpful for someone with depression, for example – being forced to get up and move can be helpful in managing symptoms.
Pugs are also very devoted. For someone who feels as though everyone always gives up on them, a pug will prove them wrong. These dogs are going to wake up every day and stick by your side no matter what. They are natural people pleasers, and they are good with children and the elderly as well. They are also very charismatic, if a dog can be such a thing. By that, I mean that they tend to be very good at convincing someone to smile, play, or brighten up just a bit. Perhaps it’s their mixture of energy, friendliness, and stubborn “stick-with-it-ness”.
(7) Bichon Frise
Another small dog, the Bichon Frise is a classic choice for elderly owners. In fact, if you head to an assisted living community, I have no doubt you’ll run into one or two of these dogs. They were bred as companion dogs, and are typically considered great for elderly owners who suffer from loneliness and depression. The Bichon Frise likes to be at the center of attention with its owner, so a person who wants to fuss over “their baby”, cuddle with a cute little fluff ball, and generally get wrapped up in their dog, will find that this breed is ideal.
However, there is more than meets the eye here. The Bichon Frise is a surprisingly smart and trainable dog. In fact, recently these dogs have begun to shine as hearing assistance dogs, and are especially known for being steadfast companions. They are also hypoallergenic, which is another great thing for elderly owners, and they manage to balance lots of fun energy with gentle behavior. They are easy to carry around as well.
Now, I’m specifically talking about the standard poodle here, but this also applies to the mini and toy versions. Poodles are a lot like Bichon Frise, with the added factor of having very dignified personalities. This can be both amusing and inspiring for those who suffer from anxiety. A poodle will definitely remind you that you can be fabulous no matter what!
This breed might surprise you, considering how high strung they can be, but if you take the time to bond with a Greyhound, you’ll find that this breed is actually great for an anxious owner. They tend to be very laidback couch potatoes, perfect for someone who needs the reminder to relax, and they are very affectionate with their owners. They are also brilliant and trainable dogs and can encourage an owner to get out for some exercise on a regular basis. Their shy-yet-lovable natures can make an anxious owner feel as though they’ve found a kindred spirit, and that connection can often be just the thing for helping with general anxiety.
These nine dog breeds are perfect for starting your search for the ideal emotional support dog. If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, depression, PTSD, or another emotional disorder, consider how the routine, affection, exercise, and companionship that a dog can offer may help with feeling a bit more balanced and on control.