The 21 Best Small Emotional Support Dogs

emotional support service dog

How Dogs Can Help Our Mental and Physical Well-being - And The Best Small Emotional Support Dogs For the Job.

Puppies take a LOT of work and training, and adult dogs aren't necessarily ready-made therapists.

Training a dog can take a lot of time, but if you understand this going in and have the patience to do it yourself or the finances to have it done professionally, you'll be rewarded with a pet who absolutely can provide emotional support in times of stress or during panic attacks and can help with feelings of loneliness and depression.

It's not a new concept. Science has long known the therapeutic effects of having a pet. The simple act of petting a dog can reduce anxiety by lowering the stress hormone cortisol while simultaneously raising feel-good hormones.

Dogs can actually help us live longer. One study done by Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes (an official journal of the American Heart Association) found that dog ownership was associated with a 31% reduction of cardiovascular related death and a 24% reduction of death from any cause!

Although living longer is a huge benefit, quality of life is also a factor and this is why finding the best small emotional support dogs, if small dogs are your preference, is important.

Can Emotional Support Dogs Fly?

Keep calm and pet a peacock! That must have been the straw that broke the emotional support animal's back, but this in a long line of people abusing the privilege.

So can emotional support animals still fly free of charge in the cabin on an airplane? yes and no.

Nearly every major airline including Delta, Southwest, American, United, JetBlue, etc. has stopped allowing ALL emotional support animals in the cabin.

But, by law, airlines are still required to allow psychiatric service dogs. Essentially, a service dog is defined as a dog that performs a specific task related to a disability. This is opposed to an emotional support animal whose mere presence would provide comfort. 

So, what does this mean? It boils down to this. If you want to fly with a small dog, you still can. Airlines are no longer requiring a letter from a mental health professional, but they no longer have to accept any animal as an emotional support animal either. And they may or may not charge a small fee, depending on the airline.

The service animal needs to be a dog. The dog needs to perform a specific task related to a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability. The psychiatric service dog can still be denied access to the flight if an airline employee finds the dog to be a danger based on the following:

  • Violates safety requirements - e.g., too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin;
  • Poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others;
  • Causes a significant disruption in the cabin or at airport gate areas; or
  • Violates health requirements - e.g., prohibited from entering a U.S. territory or foreign country.

These laws are subject to change. And, as a consumer on a JetBlue flight recently learned, don't be shocked if a ticket agent or gate agent asks you to specify the task the dog performs. According to the attorney who commented on that case, the dog needs to provide more than just comfort to qualify as a service dog.

Visit the DOT's consumer protection page for more information and to find the latest forms related to flying with service animals and service animal requirements.

Why Would Someone Need An Emotional Support Dog?

Most people think about anxiety when emotional support is mentioned. But anxiety, social or otherwise, is just one area where someone might need emotional support. Other reasons might include phobias, panic disorders, depression, loneliness and self-esteem to name a few. The good news here is that dogs can help with these things, too.

The research isn't anecdotal. It's real and science based and the reasons behind it are mostly speculative, but they make sense. Dog owners have a purpose, they get more exercise, they tend to be outside more, we already mentioned the hormonal factors which are natural mood boosters, but the list goes on.

When it comes to the best small dogs for emotional support however, not just any dog will do. This is where we come in.

What Traits Should Emotional Support Animals Have?

If I was shopping for a new small emotional support dog I wouldn't immediately dismiss any dog with terrier in the name, but I might veer toward an older dog in certain groups. Some terriers did make the list, because while some may have higher prey instincts, many also have the qualities needed to be great emotional support dogs.

The dogs that made the list below did so because they have all or most of the qualities that an emotional support animal should possess, such as:

  • Affectionate - Enjoys the Company of People;
  • Trustworthy in New Environments;
  • Easy-Going/Laid Back;
  • Not Overly Stubborn;
  • Docile - Even Tempered;
  • Known to Have Good Dispositions, Even Around Strangers

The dogs who aren't well suited to be good emotional support dogs and were Ieft off of this list of the best small emotional support dogs are: dogs that are known to be untrustworthy around children, and dogs that are well-known to be skittish and independent, and herding dogs who thrive best on a great amount of daily exercise.

Can these breeds still make the best small emotional support dogs for the right person? Of course they can.

But in general, the best small emotional support dogs are dogs that aren't overly needy themselves. Unless your emotional support needs are such that a half hour of daily exercise is more than welcome, you don't need the dog for emotional support in public and your life revolves around finding good new daily challenges. In that case, you don't need an emotional support dog, you need an agility partner.☺

We hope you find what you're looking for in an emotional support animal among the small dog breeds listed below! Click on the links to learn more about each breed.


Best Small Emotional Support Dogs - Purebred and Otherwise

How They Score: Up to 5 's were given for each breed's emotional support potential according to breed characteristics. However, all dogs are individuals and all dogs have the potential to be great emotional support dogs, depending on each individual's specific needs.




Any Breed of Rescue Dog, 2 Years or Older

If you're looking for a purpose in your life, a puppy will definitely give you something to do, keep you busy, and provide you with love, but they can also be stressful and they have more needs than an older dog.

The benefits of rescuing an adult dog versus a puppy, for the sake of emotional support comparison, would be getting a dog:

  • Already out of the chewing phase;
  • Likely already house-broken;
  • Personality is already known;
  • Calmer;
  • Most of the legwork has already been done for you. He or she has been fixed, up-to-date on shots and vet checked for health.

Talk about work and the stress of being over-whelmed with things to do and things to worry about, a rescue dog will eliminate at least a few of these.

For the sake of emotional support, knowing a dog's temperament is huge. We already listed the chewing phase and the house-broken aspect, but these deserve a second mention. These are three huge things that can be uncertain with any puppy, especially of the small breed variety.

Thanks for considering rescue whether you choose to adopt a purebred or mixed breed dog!

Affenpinscher
Affenpinscher

This is not the most laid back breed on our list, but for the most part, they are people friendly and fast learners. If you're looking for a dog with a lot of personality, an Affen won't disappoint. The caveat here would be that Affenpinschers can be spirited as puppies and young adults. They have a tendency to be climbers and diggers, so if you're looking for a couch potato, you might have to adopt an older, calmer Affenpinscher.

Beagle

This affectionate, easy-going, people friendly, kid friendly dog may not be the smallest dog on the Best Small Emotional Support Dogs List, but just because he won't fit in your purse or pocket doesn't mean he's not up to the task of providing comfort or a service if he's trained to do so.

Beagles are highly intelligent, rarely aggressive, highly trainable and I've never met a single one who was skittish around strangers and didn't LOVE the company of people.

Bichon Frise - emotional support dog
Bichon

A Bichon is one of the more sensitive breeds on our list of the best small emotional support dogs. This dog breed will fit well in a home without loud noises and chaos and, for the most part, they're quick learners with the proper handling and training. Bichons are also people friendly.

This dog breed is rising quickly in popularity which means uneducated opportunists  are taking advantage of the situation and overproducing dogs with no regard for health or temperament.

Careful research on how to avoid puppy mill dogs will ensure the best likelihood of finding a Bichon with the best qualities an emotional support dog should possess.

There is almost certainly a Bichon near you in need of rescue. Learn all the clever ways to find purebred dogs near you in need of rescue.

Boston Terrier

I've known more than a couple of Boston Terriers in my life and they're definitely mood boosters. Their silly antics will definitely put a smile on your face. When I asked my friend that raised them as a kid, she said about half of them were super high evergy, but I think that's true of a lot of pups.

An adult Boston Terrier will settle into lap of luxury (pun intended) and, with proper training and socialization, they have the potential to be one of the best small emotional support dogs anyone could ask for.

They also come in a LOT of different colors. Learn more here.

Brussels Griffon

A lot like the Affenpinscher, Griffies are for a quick learners who loves the company of people. This breed, like many on our list will do best in quiet households without of a lot of chaos and loud noises.

To avoid having a dog whose nervous around strangers and needs his own emotion support pet, socialize him early and often. This is true of all breeds if your plan for your future emotional support animal is to accompany you on public errands, like department stores and other public venues.

Chihuahua - emotional support service dog
Chihuahua

If you're looking for tireless watch dog and the true-to-you type who lives to be your faithful side-kick, look no further.

Chihuahuas can develop a habit of becoming overly possessive of their owners, but as long as this behavior isn't rewarded or encouraged (for the dog's sake and yours), a chi will make a great emotional support dog!

Whether your emotional support needs are social anxiety, loneliness, fear of flying (most airlines have ended their e.s.a. policy as of March 2021- Read the section above about flying) or depression, a chihuahua is up to the task.

The other good news is that Chihuahuas are easy to find and easy to adopt. You will almost certainly find one near you in need of a loving forever home.

Choosing to adopt will make you feel good! How's that for emotional support? In return, you'll get a dog who knows you saved him and he'll be eager to return the favor. ♥

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

As far as disposition goes, a Cav is easily one of the most gentle and laid back of all the small emotional support dogs on this list.

This easy going little dog may not be the smallest of all the lap dogs listed here, but a sweeter dog you'd be hard-pressed to find.

The caveat with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is that the breed is prone to wide array of genetic health issues. This is especially true of puppy mill dogs and unfortunately, these unethical oppurtunists don't concern themselves with producing dogs that conform to standard, let alone for health.

Learn more about the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and then learn why adopting an adult dog might be the best choice for you.

hairy hairless chinese crestedTwo of my rescue dogs, Brookly and Dot.
Chinese Crested

Don't let the look of surprise fool you! Chinese Cresteds make great emotional support dogs. While they do have a high propensity for being active and highly spirited in some breeds, on average, a Chinese Crested loves little more than a warm, cozy lap... followed by a totally random mad-dash through the house, just for the fun of it! But then they're back to business. The business of being a great emotional support dog.

Please don't overlook the powderpuff. While the hairless Chinese Crested seems to get the most attention, the powderpuff is completely underrated. They possess the same graceful, pony-like charm as their hairless siblings along with the same lovable personality, funny antics and effortless beauty.

Both varieties of this breed have special maintenance needs. Learn more before deciding if a Chinese Crested is the right emotional support dog for you.

English Bulldogs
English Bulldog

English Bulldogs are not a breed that you can make walk for miles. So if you're looking for a dog to walk you through several aisles at the home depot, understand that English Bulldogs can overheat easily and will need to go at a much slower pace.

That said, if you can get through the first couple of years while the English Bulldog grows out of the puppy phase, the gentle and laid back personality of this breed will shine through. Quick learners at any age, Bullies are affectionate and well-behaved for the most part.

Learn more about the English Bulldog, their maintenance needs and other breed traits before deciding if this is the best emotional support dog for you... While you're getting to know more about the breed, you can also discover why I paint them so often.

French Bulldog
French Bulldog

There is a very high risk of poorly bred and puppy mill dogs in this breed. Due diligence in choosing a responsible breeder should be priority #1 if a French Bulldog is on your emotional support shopping list. 

This means visiting the breeder, making sure her dogs are bred "in house" and the dogs are not kept in cages in her garage, barn, etc. or at another location separate from her home. But this is just for starters.

If you travel often and want a dog to carry with you on flights, remember that a Frenchie's pushed-in face makes it more difficult for him to breathe, a very open carrier is necessary.

If you do need to use a carrier, find one where the dog can poke his head out or use one constructed of mostly screen mesh where the dog can still get plenty of air.


Havanese
Havanese

One of the sweetest breeds with the best dispositions. They're akin to the Maltese or Bichon as far as their temperament and they're perfect size if you're looking for a small emotional support dog that isn't necessarily tiny and fragile.

A Havenese, named for it's Cuban heritage, is also non-shedding. If you're looking for a dog that you won't have to vacuum after constantly, the Havanese is one of many, but keep in mind a Havanese, like many of the other non-shedding dog breeds, will have higher maintenance needs to keep them healthy and to keep their coats from becoming overgrown and matted. 

Italian Greyhound
Italian Greyhound

Iggies are faithful, affectionate and loyal companions. They love being close to their people, but they're not overly clingy. Still, an Italian Greyhound could be the best small emotional support dog for you if you're looking for a dog that's easy to train, gentle and affectionate and doesn't shed.

The few small things this dog will need from you to stay looking and feeling his best (clothing for warmth, for one) will be rewarded with the perfect emotional support dog, regardless of what your emotional support needs are.

Important: You'll need to socialize this breed well. Being a great lap warmer is only part of the story when you're looking for an emotional support dog. If you're looking for a dog to take with you on your daily errands, on trips to the grocery store, etc., never assume anything.

While Iggy's aren't inherently skittish around strangers as a characteristic of the breed, shyness does run in certain lines. And rescue dogs of this breed are especially sensitive and wary of people. Never take this dog into a new situation without being securely harnessed. 

My penchant for rescue dogs and adoration of this breed has made me familiar with many who've escaped the clutches of their foster moms and sadly were never seen again.

maltese dog
Maltese

The gentle Maltese may have high maintenance needs pertaining to his coat, but a better companion for car rides, plane rides, walks on the beach would be hard to come by.

So, does a Maltese make one of the best small emotional support dogs?

My friend, Sharon, whose owned several Maltese dogs in her lifetime says that while she's never purchased one with the intent of having an emotional support animal, the dogs still somehow know it's their calling.


Norwich Terrier
Norwich Terrier

I know I said terriers would be a risk while they're young, but many of them are such devoted family pets, like the Norwich Terrier who just absolutely love being close to their people, that they still make great emotional support pets, especially adult dogs. 

Be advised that terriers have a higher prey instinct, so a harness is always a must, but honestly, that's true of ANY breed.

Norwich Terriers are generally around 12 pounds, give or take. They're the perfect size traveling companion if you like small dogs, but not necessarily tiny and fragile.

papillon
Papillon

Papillons aka The Butterfuly dogs. Gentle, easy going papillons are also athletic and intelligent... A great combination for obedience and agility if you're looking for a new hobby as well as a new emotional support dog.

Papillons make great family pets and adjust well to either country or city living. Since they're not overly skittish, but maybe just a little shy around strangers at first, they still make the list, as their tendency is to be wary, not agressive.

Always walk on a leash.

Apricot poodle
Poodle

What is not to love about a poodle?! Seriously, They come in all sizes and colors and now they're even being mixed with other breeds to create new so-called "designer" breeds.

But please don't be fooled by this extortion tactic. Breeding two dogs then concocting a gibberish sounding  word doesn't make this mixed breed dog worth piles of money. Period. There is no cockerpoo, no labradoodle, no shihpoo worth more than a rescue fee... Exclamation point.

One of my very first dogs was a mutt, a shih tzu, poodle, bichon mix. Did I call him a shih-poo-chon? No. Did the pound try to make me believe he was somehow superior and charge me a million dollars for him? Also no. Was he the best dog ever? YES! Incidentally, all of my dogs are the best dogs ever.☺

But, I digress. Poodles make wonderful emotional support dogs. Just don't be taken advantage of by shysters trying to scam you out of your money. If you want a mixed breed poodle, check petfinder or a host of other sites. Find more resources and learn why you might be further ahead to rescue.

2 pugs
Pugs

If you're looking for a traveling companion, a pug could be a trucker's best friend, but a plane might be a different matter.

A pug, being a brachycephalic breed already has breathing difficulties, at times, even in the best circumstances. Special care would need to be taken for air travel to make sure the dog can breathe comfortably and doesn't become overheated.

If you just want a companion animal who likes soft scratches behind the ears in exchange for warming your lap, a pug could be the perfect emotional support dog.

Shih tzu painting
Shih Tzu

Shih tzus make the list of the best small emotional support dogs. They also make great subjects for art and I find my therapy in painting dogs. The Shih Tzu painting to the left was created by me. 

Learn more about how a shih tzu might fit into your lifestyle here. And while you're here, learn more about me and see more of my artwork with shih tzus and many other breeds.

Yorkshire Terrier art
Yorkshire Terrier

I couldn't possible exclude the Yorkshire Terrier on this best small emotional support dogs list.

Because of their size, they travel well and because of their popularity and commonality, it's not hard to find an adult Yorkshire Terrier or Yorkie puppy available for adoption.

If you're looking to make a Yorkshire Terrier your newest support animal, keep in mind they can be mischievous and highly spirited. To avoid buying an unhealthy puppy avoid all petstores that sell puppies. Here's why.

If you have the time and patience to train and socialize a Yorkie and don't mind a dog who takes his watch dog duties very seriously (very alert to new sound and movement), then take a closer look at a Yorkie.

You can find my paintings, like the one on the left, on several household items like garden flags available here and jigsaw puzzles in stores and online. Google my name, Brooke Faulder, to find the latest puzzles and other dog and gift related items that feature my paintings.


How to Adopt an Emotional Support Dog

Most people are surprised to learn that nearly 7 million loving and healthy dogs are euthanized each year, and 25-30% of them are purebreds.

Adopting an emotional support dog is as easy as going to petfinder.com, rescueme.org, adoptapet.com, etc. Select the breed of your choosing, then scroll through the listings to find the perfect dog for you! You can also call your local shelters to find out if they have the breed you're searching for.

Pet shelters can also help you find breed-specific rescue groups in your area.

As an artist and small breed dog buff, it was my passion to make a career of painting dogs and learning everything there was to know about them. I couldn't stop there. I also made it my mission to put an end to puppy mills. By using my art, the internet and my passion to make the public aware, I will not stop as long as there is one dog still suffering.

In the meantime, I wish you heath and happiness and the best of luck in your search for the best small emotional support dog for you!

There are several other popular small dog breeds. Just because these breeds don't meet the criteria listed above, doesn't mean they can't be the best small emotional support dog for you. Depending on your individual needs and willingness to adjust or train, ANY DOG has the potential to be the best emotional support dog for you!


Learn more about me, my art, the mission of this site and Rescue Dogs Are Better here.

We also welcome you to contact us if there are any other questions we can answer for you about anything you saw or read on this site.

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