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Want to learn how to train an emotional support dog? Good idea!
Emotional Support Dogs (ESA’s) are a helpful resource to those in need and can provide comfort and security to those who suffer from conditions ranging from anxiety to PTSD and more.
Teaching your dog to become an ESA takes time, patience and a plan. But it is something you, the owner, can accomplish on your own. We’ve got you covered with this helpful guide.
Keep reading to learn what you need to know about how to train your pup to be an emotional support dog
1. Natural Disposition
Before you begin the journey of training your dog to be an ESA, you’ll first want to consider if your dog or puppy has the natural disposition of an animal that would be comforting to those in need.
Some breeds have a natural tendency to be hyper, aggressive or even timid. These factors will contribute to whether or not your dog makes an easy transition from loving pet to Emotional Service Animal.
While there are various ways to train and manage your dogs’ personality, you should pay attention to where they naturally excel and where they might need a little nudge in order to become the best support animal possible.
Breeds like retrievers, poodles, and German Shepards have a natural inclination to serve their owners. They are naturally obedient breeds who will be easier to train than some others.
2. The Basics
Once you’ve determined your dog has the right disposition, it’s time to start some basic training.
First things first; make sure your dog has some fundamental skills down. These simple commands will be essential in ensuring your dog is well behaved around those they are supporting; whether it’s you or someone else.
Start early on with commands like sit, stay, stop and come.
Not only do you want your dog to have a grasp of some basic commands, but you’ll also want to socialize your pup.
This means taking him to the park in an effort to start acclimating him to other dogs and to other people.
A dog with social anxiety or one who doesn’t interact well with other people or pets will not be a good emotional support dog since usually, those fears will transfer into nervous or unpredictable energy around others.
Take your dog out frequently to the dog parks or on walks, bring him with you to other people’s homes or have guests over in yours to let him get used to being around others. Be sure he doesn’t bark, lunge or jump on people when he sees them.
4. Tackle Anxiety
If you’re getting an emotional support dog, you’ll quickly find that most human issues have an underlying symptom of anxiety. When this is the case, you’ll want to teach your dog how to provide some level of physical comfort.
The ability to have a dog sit with a human on a sofa or chair and provide physical closeness and comfort is a big reason we have ESA’s.
What this type of behavior looks like will depend on the size of the dog and the human it’s supporting. For example, a smaller dog could lay directly on the humans’ chest while a larger breed will place only his legs on the human.
This type of pressure known as Deep Pressure Therapy is the reason things like gravity blankets have become so popular as of late.
5. Paws Up
If your dog is already interested in hopping up on to the sofa, you’re ahead of the game. But if he isn’t, you’ll likely have to lure him there with some treats.
Start with showing your dog the treat as you move toward the sofa. Simply state his name, followed by “paws up” to get him to climb onto the sofa. When he does this, reward him with the treat.
Try doing this a few times in a row so your dog begins to associate the command with the action. Eventually, you’ll begin to practice this command without the use of treats. You don’t want your dog to listen only when there’s food involved as a reward at the end.
6. Down & Stay
Once you have your dog up on the sofa, the way he will begin to soothe anxiety is by actually laying on you with either his entire body or a portion of it.
This is where the “down” command that you hopefully taught him in basic training will come into play.
When your dog is on the sofa, position him so that he is where you want him to lay down. If you have a smaller dog, the goal is the have him laying on your chest with his paws at your shoulder. A bigger dog should have his paws across your lap.
Get your pup into this position and then say “down”. Again, you may need to coax him with a treat the first few times. If your dog listens to the command but won’t lay down for long, follow up with the “stay” command, again, followed by a treat.
7. Paws Off
The last step of this is teaching your dog to get off the sofa when it’s time to leave. This is the same as the “paws up” command but the other way around.
When you want to get him down from the sofa, grab a treat, lure him off by saying his name followed by the command “paws off”. Again, you may have to practice this several times with a treat and then without in order for him to get the hang of it.
Be prepared that sometimes the “paws down” command can be a bit more challenging to teach if you have a dog who enjoys being on the sofa and isn’t interested in relocating.
How to Train an Emotional Support Dog; Start Today!
With the guide above, you now have the tools and understand the basics of how to train an emotional support dog.
It’s best to start as young as one-year-old but many dogs of all ages will be happy to offer support and know they are making a human very happy.
Be sure to check out the rest of our site for more tips!