Discover the Best Dogs for Mental Health

Dogs for Mental Health

Pawsitive Vibes Only: The Best Dogs for Mental Health

There is nothing more heartwarming than a ‘welcome home’ greeting from our excitable, loyal furry friends. But for some, it can mean so much more than the social niceties of a wagging tail or big grin. The best dogs for mental health offer emotional support and unwavering companionship in what can otherwise be a lonely world.

In today’s increasingly fast-paced society, depression, anxiety, and chronic stress are on the up. Yet, with their unwavering loyalty, empathetic nature, and unconditional love, dogs have become one remedy for these issues.

Let’s take a look at how dogs can help with our emotional and psychological well-being. And, the breeds that make the best dogs for owners suffering from mental health challenges.

What Makes Some Dog Breeds Easier to Train?

While every dog is an individual, your training success can depend on many factors — such as early socialization, consistency of training, and the methods used. Yet, certain breeds tend to have a predisposition for quick learning and can be a joy to train. For example:

  • Intelligence — How well does a dog understand or learn the commands you want them to refer to? Easy-to-train dogs are smart, which makes them fast learners.

  • Focus — How easy does the dog become distracted or how calm is the pooch? 

  • Eagerness to Please — How strong is the dog's bond with their owner? Does the pup just want to please and be rewarded by their trainer — so they’ll do whatever you ask them, just to make you happy.

  • Working Dog Genetics — Dogs that have been bred as working dogs, such as herding, hunting, or police dogs, will have a stronger genetic predisposition to pick up training quickly.

Is Having a Dog Good for Mental Health? — The Science

Absolutely. The therapeutic effects of canine ownership should never be underestimated. Over the years, there has been plenty of scientific research into the positive effects of owning a pup on a person’s mental health.

  • Research suggests that animal-assisted therapy can help patients — recover from surgery or a major accident — both physically, by reducing pain, and emotionally. 

The unconditional love and non-judgmental nature of a canine friend offers a unique and invaluable support system to their owners. They can provide the dedicated owner with a sense of purpose, a routine for their days, and companionship that’s particularly beneficial for those individuals struggling with mental health issues.

Service Dog vs Therapy Dog — The Difference

The best dogs good for mental health are often referred to as therapy dogs, but you may have also heard the term “service dogs.” So, what’s the difference?

In short, it comes down to how the dog is recognized by the laws outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

  • Service dogs — are trained to perform very specific tasks for their owners. They will receive a high level of vigorous training specifically aimed at helping their new owners cope with a disability as covered by the ADA. For example, guide dogs help people who are blind or visually impaired carry out their day-to-day lives more independently. 

  • Therapy dogs — sometimes called “comfort” or “emotional support” dogs, support mental health by providing attention and comfort to their owners. In that, it’s their job to make you smile, feel good about yourself, or calm. 

However, therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA, and as such, don’t enjoy the same privileges of service dogs for accompanying their owners in restricted public spaces.

The 10 Best Dogs for Mental Health

Although any friendly breed of dog can be trained to give emotional support, certain breeds are better known for their eagerness to learn the role of a therapy dog. 

Generally speaking, the best emotional support dog breeds for anxiety and depression are:

  • Loyal.

  • Friendly.

  • Sociable.

  • Calm.

  • Affectionate.

  • Confident.

  • Loving.

Although intelligence doesn’t quite make the list, after all, it doesn’t take a genius to follow you around the house and shower you with unconditional love. Yet, smart breeds are often easier to train and can be more perceptive of your moods.

1. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

best emotional support dog breeds

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was originally bred to be a companion canine, the ultimate lap dog. Their genetics make them warm-hearted comforters, and they crave human interaction.

Undeniably cute, well-behaved, and compact, they make a great apartment dog for owners with limited space. And, as far as exercise goes, the Cav’s adaptable nature means they’re happy to go with the flow — they’ll happily keep up on long walks or cuddle up on the sofa all day.

With an innate ability to form strong bonds with their owners, they’re excellent companions for individuals struggling with anxiety or depression. The comforting presence of a Cavalier King Charles can have a remarkable impact on mood and stress levels.

2. Golden Retriever

psychiatric service dog breeds

Golden Retrievers have consistently charted as one of the most popular breeds both as family pets and therapy dogs. With their gentle and friendly nature, Goldens are experts at providing emotional support.

As one of the best breeds for psychiatric service dogs, this breed is often employed in various settings — such as hospitals and nursing homes — which backs up their remarkable ability to bring comfort and joy. Their affectionate demeanor, combined with a calm and patient temperament, creates a soothing presence.

What’s more, Goldens are one of the easiest breeds to train and quickly learn commands like “fetch the TV remote” for those who may struggle with physical tasks too — they’re a Retriever after all! You could almost say these awesome canines are the gold standard of psychiatric service dog breeds!

3. Labrador Retriever

best dog for mental health

A close relative to the Golden Retriever, the Labrador was for many years America’s most popular dog breed. However, the out-going, yet even-tempered Lab remains the best dog for mental health — helping those cope with stress, anxiety or depression.

Just like their Retriever cousins, the Lab is kind, trusting, and friendly with a calm nature — meaning they get on with anyone and everyone. Smart and easy to train, they have long been one of the more popular choices for a therapy dog. 

However, Labs are an energetic breed and require plenty of exercise every day. But, their playful nature can bring their owners many hours of joy, serving as a natural mood enhancer. 

4. Poodle

best service dogs for anxiety

Poodles come in three different sizes — toy, miniature, and standard — all known for their versatility and hypoallergenic coat. This can help those who suffer from allergies, reducing the risk of allergic reactions and unwanted stress caused by the symptoms. 

This breed excels in many canine activities, including therapy work. The Poodle’s high level of intelligence not only makes them very trainable but also allows them to pick up on subtle cues to adjust to their owner’s moods. 

Thriving in both active and relaxed environments makes a Poodle suitable for a wide range of individuals seeking canine companionship. And, as they’re one of the healthiest breeds, a Poodle will also enjoy a long lifespan for a lasting therapy dog. This canine’s uplifting and often goofy personality is sure to rub off on their human companions and brighten their mood.

5. Yorkshire Terrier

good psychiatric service dog breeds

As well as being one of the cutest lap dogs ever, the Yorkshire Terrier is a good candidate for one of the best small dogs for mental health. Yorkies are extremely compact and portable, ideal for those apartment buildings that may not allow larger animals — remember therapy dogs don’t enjoy the ADA’s privileges like service dogs.

That portability makes the Yorkie a great traveling companion in comparison to a larger dog — you won’t face as many logistical challenges. For somebody who wants a spunky sidekick to accompany them in situations where they may feel uneasy, the Yorkie will stick to them like a second shadow.

Although they aren’t an intimidating guard dog by any means, the Yorkie is very protective of their owners and will happily alert them of any potential threats. Plus, they’re confident little canines, they will keep their cool even when you can’t. But it’s their willingness to cuddle that benefits owners with depression and anxiety most.

6. Corgi

good emotional support dog breeds for anxiety

Although their height may make Corgis unsuitable for certain service dog tasks, they were originally bred for herding and also make excellent guide dogs. As smart energetic working dogs, Corgis are curious and easy to train, thus obedient. 

Corgis are well known for being constantly aware of their surroundings (just look at those big pointy ears and alert little faces). This makes them the perfect choice for people who need consistent emotional support. They seem to have an inherent knack for picking up on their owner’s mood and helping support them accordingly. 

Corgis are fairly active and would best suit those who prefer to take their pup with them when venturing out and about to help channel some of their energy. Plus, they thrive on togetherness, so they aren’t a dog that can be left alone for too long.

7. Border Collie

is having a dog good for mental health

The Border Collie is a smart dog and an awesome herder. Just as they would constantly check to ensure their flock is happy, this breed is skilled at picking up when something is amiss with their owner — dashing in to provide a friendly paw and comfort.

As an energetic breed, the Border Collie will often motivate and inspire you to keep moving even when you don’t feel up to it. This unique talent makes them an excellent choice for those who suffer from depression. These good emotional support dog breeds for anxiety can also be calm and content at the same time.

Highly trainable, the Border Collie won’t add to the stress of those facing mental health issues and will be an obedient companion with the correct training. They can be a loyal and alert guardian of your home while providing plenty of grounding and physical comfort.

8. Pug

best small dogs for mental health

Who can be sad looking at a Pug? Often referred to as the clown of the canine world, those comical wrinkles can be warm and comforting to anybody who should gaze upon them. Fortunately, the Pug also has a temperament that makes them a good emotional support dog breed for anxiety.

The expression of a Pug is often described as human-like, so it’s no wonder we bond so easily with these pups (their big hearts help too). Pugs are relatively easy to train with a goofy yet laid-back and affectionate nature, which means they excel in offering comfort during times of stress.

However, a Pug can have its own health issues — flat-faced, they struggle in hot weather and are prone to skin infections from those wrinkles. And, they suffer from separation anxiety, so make sure you have plenty of time for your Pug. 

9. Vizsla

best breeds for psychiatric service dogs

Anyone wanting the 24/7 companionship of a canine, consider a Vizsla. Often nicknamed the “velcro dog,” Vizslas form a strong bond with their humans, so they’re perfect for those owners suffering from depression. 

Originally bred for hunting, these Hungarian canines are joyful and people-focused pups. With tons of energy, a Vizsla needs plenty of outdoor exercise — so they’re better suited to active/outdoorsy owners/families.

As an intelligent working dog, the Vizsla is quick to learn new tasks or tricks, and their cheerful nature makes them a top choice of support dog. However, like the pug, they too can suffer from separation anxiety, so may not be suitable for owners who spend a lot of time away from the home.

10. Bernese Mountain Dog

best service dogs

For some people who face mental health issues daily, a large dog with more presence can be one of the best service dogs for anxiety. The gentle giant of the therapy dog world, a Bernese Mountain dog combines a calm temperament with a loving nature for those suffering from depression.

With their size, their thick double coat, and that beautiful tri-colored face, they’re totally huggable — and who doesn’t feel better after a cuddle with their canine? Berners often need coaxing out of their shells through early socialization and training during puppyhood. Yet, they retain a gentle and patient demeanor, which is ideal for providing emotional support to their owners.

A Bernese forms a close relationship with their family and can be particularly good with children. Their overly affectionate nature and size mean having a Bernese Mountain Dog in the home can create a sense of security and comfort for anyone who may be dealing with mental health challenges.

Final Thoughts

It’s proven — dog companionship is beneficial for your emotional well-being. But, before bringing a pup into your life, think about your lifestyle, activity levels, and how much time you can dedicate to your new furry friend. 

The best dogs for mental health are those that gel with your needs, offer unconditional love, and make you feel a whole lot better about yourself. And, while these canines may not be trained service dogs, if you need emotional support they can be a valuable lifeline.

Best Dogs for Mental Health FAQs

Which Breed of Dog Is Best for Mental Health?

Although every individual pooch is different, generally, calm and patient pooches like the Golden Retriever, Labrador, or a lap dog like the King Charles Spaniel are good emotional support dog breeds for anxiety and similar mental health challenges.

What Is the Best Emotional Support Dog for Anxiety?

Apart from being fluffy and adorable, studies prove that owning a dog can be good for a person’s anxiety levels — with pet owners shown to have lower resting heart rates and lower blood pressure.

Breeds good for anxiety sufferers include the Chihuahua, Golden Retriever, and Corgis — all highly intelligent and manageable breeds.

Is a Dog Good for Depression?

Just as a canine companion can help with anxiety, they can also help owners who may be feeling depressed. It goes so much beyond the smiling face of a pup cheering you up — science indicates that most pet owners have higher levels of oxytocin, the “love chemical” in their system.

Oxytocin is beneficial to people suffering from depression as it helps to regulate levels of stress and anxiety, which can often run rampant when somebody is depressed.

What Is a Dog That Helps With Mental Health?

Emotional support dogs (ESDs) or therapy dogs are those that help with mental health by offering companionship and comfort to a patient, or their owner. These dogs don’t require specialized training.

Good psychiatric service dog breeds will receive specialized training for a specific condition before being granted to a patient who faces mental or physical health issues. 

What Is the Best Pet for Mental Health?

Although we’ve looked at the best dogs for mental health, cats can also be popular pets that assist with emotional or psychological challenges. Cats can be loving, independent animals that help with loneliness, depression, and anxiety. And, rabbits, known for their sociability and long life span, can generate an atmosphere of calm in a home, which is often used to help with mental well-being.

Which Dog Has the Highest Emotional Intelligence?

As you would expect, the Golden Retriever is generally accepted to display exceptional emotional intelligence. Hence, they excel as therapy dogs and offering empathy to their owners. Goldens are particularly talented at sensing their owner’s emotions and providing support or comfort when needed.

Are Dogs Good for Mental Health?

Yes, owning a dog can help with mental health issues and even improve your general health. Studies throughout the years have shown owning a dog can help ease feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress. Canine ownership can also encourage you to get more exercise and improve your physical health.

Healthy mind, healthy body!