How to Train an Emotional Support Dog

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October 3, 2023
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8 Basic & Advanced Skills to Teach Your Emotional Support Dog

Emotional support dog, or ESDs, are animals that offer a special type of care and compassion to a human in need. Dogs are often used as an ESD because of their emotional intelligence and ability to support people with mental illnesses. 

An ESD letter, written by a licensed mental health professional, is needed on behalf of the owner in order to have an ESD

Below we will list three skills dogs should know to be an ESD and go into detail five more that are lesser known!

3 Basic Skills of an Emotional Support Dog

When it comes to the skills an emotional support dog should have, some are more straightforward, and specialized training might not be needed. We will list a few dog training behaviors here:

Skill Importance
House Training - A dog that’s not potty trained can be an unneeded added stressor.
- Bell training is a great way to do this!
Basic Obedience Training With the establishment of basic training, a dog and owner likely have the foundations for an ESA relationship.
Familiar Routines Think of what you do daily: an emotional support dog needs exposure to those socialization experiences so that they become routine to the dog as well.

5 Advanced Skills of an Emotional Support Dog

When it comes to the skills an emotional support dog should have, some require additional attention because they are more advanced skills. We will break down these five advanced skills, here!

#1- Come When Called

In cases where distractions might be high, your dog should be equipped with how to come to you when needed. 

How To: 

  • When training for this skill, having someone else hold the dog’s collar might be helpful.
  • Walk away from your dog. 
  • Call your dog. When your dog comes to you, use positive reinforcement by giving them a  treat like a nibble of food. 
  • A consequence of simple tap should be used if the dog does not comply with your command. 
  • Repeat!

#2- Loose Leash Walking

An emotional support dog should be trusted to remain in control while on a leash that has some slack. 

How To: 

  • Start with your dog leashed at your side. 
  • Take one step forward. 
  • If the dog follows, give him or her a treat like a food nibble. 
  • Repeat until you feel it’s enough. 
  • Take two or three steps before the next food nibble. 
  • If your dog does not follow or does not stop with your steps, immediately stop.
  • Turn your back and wait for the dog to come to you. 
  • Give it a go again! Continue doing this until your dog gets the hang of it.

#3- Shadow Me

The purpose of having an emotional support dog is likely to provide constant companionship. To achieve that, a dog needs to recognize that being by your side is the best place to be! 

How To: 

  • Whenever your dog is by your side and you appreciate their presence there, give him or her a treat. 
  • Give some affection to show them that you enjoy their company in that space. 
  • Do this whenever the dog is in the right spot with you! 
  • Repetition and consistency are key!

#4- Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT)

DPT is a phenomenal skill for emotional support dogs to gain! The relief felt from a dog applying pressure to certain pressure points is fantastic! 

How To: 

  • Get in a comfortable position and call your dog to you. This might sound odd, but your goal is to coax your dog to sit on you in a specified area (chest, legs, etc.).
  • Use positive reinforcement to teach your dog that sitting on your chest (or other area) is what he or she should do. 
  • Use a signal word like “touch” so your dog associates sitting on that spot with that word. 
  • Repeat this to help your dog learn the skill!

#5- Teaching Your Dog To Recognize Your Needs

To provide your dog with learning opportunities, you will need to stage an environment by pretending that you are in distress (pacing, shaking, crying, etc.).

How To: 

  • You will layer the DPT skill training in this lesson. 
  • Once you have displayed your distress signals, issue the “touch” command the dog knows for DPT. 
  • When your dog comes to you, reward him or her with a food nibble. 
  • Reward your dog again when he or she lays down to apply to DPT.

Conclusion - 8 Basic & Advanced Skills to Teach Your Emotional Support Dog

Emotional support dogs are known for their ability to calm a hectic environment. A dog needs to be taught some basic commands and advanced skills to be equipped with the necessary skills to provide emotional support.

At Minnesota Canine Consulting, we believe in a dog’s power to provide comfort and support in times of need!

Questions? We are happy to chat with you about emotional support dog training. Call today! 651-505-3585.


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