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Can German Shepherds Be Emotional Support Dogs?

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

German Shepherds are popular as K9 and police dogs, service dogs, award-winning show dogs, and pets. Their versatility explains why GSDs have consistently kept their place among the top 5 most popular dog breeds. But, can German Shepherds be emotional support dogs?

Dogs of any breed can be an emotional support animal, including German Shepherds. German Shepherds are affectionate, loyal, and protective dogs. These traits make them excellent at providing companionship and comfort to people who need emotional support.

In this article, I’ll answer your questions about what an emotional support animal (ESA) is and why German Shepherds are great at being emotional support dogs. Let’s cut to the chase!

Emotional Support German Shepherd. A GSD lending a paw to it's owner for emotional support.

What Is an Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support dog is a dog that offers therapeutic benefits through comfort and companionship to a person with a disabling mental or psychiatric condition. Emotional support dogs also relieve loneliness, anxiety, depression, and certain phobias. 

People who need the support of an emotional support dog rely on the animal to deal with mental and emotional conditions that can compromise their normal day-to-day functioning and quality of life.

It is crucial to note that emotional support dogs are not service dogs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network, although ESAs can be used in medical therapy and treatment plans, they do not qualify as service animals. 

This is primarily because, unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not get the special training required to assist persons with disabilities, which is the specialty of service animals.

That said, you should also know that an emotional support dog requires formal recognition to be considered one. Specifically, this is what happens:

  1. A practicing psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist determines that a person has a mental health condition that needs the presence of an emotional support animal. 
  2. The licensed mental health practitioner prescribes an emotional support dog to the person that needs it. 

Learn More About The Differences Between a Service Dog,

Therapy Dog & Emotional Support Dog In This Video…

So, exactly why are German Shepherds good at providing emotional support? Find out why in the rest of the article.

Why German Shepherds Are Good Emotional Support Dogs

Dogs of any age and breed can be emotional support animals. That gives German Shepherds direct eligibility as emotional support dogs. However, considering the roles assigned to ESAs, there are also unique characteristics that make German Shepherds good emotional support dogs, 

Here are 5 unique reasons why German Shepherds are good emotional support dogs: 

  • German Shepherds are friendly and affectionate dogs.
  • German Shepherds are loyal dogs.
  • German Shepherds are protective dogs.
  • German Shepherds are playful dogs.
  • German Shepherds are great family dogs.

German Shepherds Are Friendly and Affectionate Dogs

Persons with a mental illness often have symptoms like feeling sad or withdrawing from friends and social activities. The presence of an affectionate dog can help them not to feel lonely and abandoned.

Because of their friendly and affectionate nature, German Shepherds are great company for such persons. Affectionate dogs have a lovey-dovey disposition, and the German Shepherd Dog has a perfect score for being loving and friendly with the family.

Learn More About The German Shepherd In This Video…

German Shepherds Are Loyal Dogs

The loyalty of dogs is attributed to the pack behavior in their wolf ancestry. That means your dog will stick with you (“the pack”) for better or worse as long as the pet feels a sense of belonging. 

German Shepherds fit this description of loyalty perfectly! If you google “the most loyal dog breeds,” you’ll certainly find the German Shepherd listed among the top ten in most search results.

Read more: Are German Shepherds Loyal? Things Only an Owner Understands

This means that a person with a mental illness and the need for comfort and companionship will find a German Shepherd fit for the purpose.

German Shepherd

German Shepherds Are Protective Dogs

Being protective is another of the traits for which German Shepherds have a perfect score. Protective dogs are highly vigilant, meaning they will not miss a chance to act should their owner or someone in the family need protection.

As a former Police Officer for three decades (and owner of the breed), I have seen first-hand these dogs put their life on the line for their handlers. Head over to this article for greater insight, Are German Shepherds Protective? (Ex-Cop Weighs In).

People with mental conditions can experience excessive fears. Even though these can sometimes be unfounded phobias or delusions, the protective presence of a loving and loyal dog can be reassuring to a person who needs it. Who better than a German Shepherd Dog!

German Shepherds Are Playful Dogs

A light moment of play can be the therapy that a person who feels distressed and lonely needs to rekindle their life focus and purpose. If play happens in the company of a pet who’s treasured as one’s best friend, it will have a more meaningful effect on lifting the person’s spirit.

German Shepherds are playful dogs. They will play non-stop 4 out of 5 times. These are also high-energy dogs – a person needing emotional support through play just needs to let their GSD know they want to play, and their dog will immediately say, I’m in!”

German Shepherds Are Great Family Dogs

Often, people who need emotional support are members of a larger family. According to the US National Institute of Mental Health, mental health illnesses are prevalent among persons of all ages, including children under 18 years. 

As good family dogs, German Shepherds can use their affection and attentiveness to offer comfort when family members with mental issues need them. For example, with children, GSDs can be a play companion that elicits laughter and excitement when distressed or anxious children need it.

In fact, studies have established that since children show a positive response to animals, dogs can successfully be incorporated into play therapy for children with behavioral and emotional problems. The German Shepherd qualifies even more for being excessively good with children. 

Watch This Video To See Why The GSD Makes The Top 10 of ESAs…

The Bottom Line

People with mental or psychiatric illnesses can find it challenging to go through their daily lives due to issues like anxiety, depression, a sense of loneliness, or emotional distress.

German Shepherds can sense human emotions like sadness, fear, happiness, and frustration. They will place their heads on your lap, lie or sit next to you and comfort you when you are sad.

Emotional support dogs provide the comfort, companionship, protection, and consoling cuddles that these persons require. Can German Shepherds be emotional support dogs and provide this support?

Yes! German Shepherds are affectionate, friendly, loyal, and protective, all traits that make them perfect support dogs.

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Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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