Best Small Emotional Support and Service Dog Breeds

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They say good things come in small packages, and this cliché rings true for dogs. The tiny statures of small dog breeds have many benefits, including providing emotional support and service for people with disabilities. While many associate big breeds like golden retrievers, great danes, and German shepherds as service animals, tiny pups can also offer emotional care and physical assistance.

Here’s everything you need to know about the best emotional support dogs and service animals.

What Are the Differences Between Emotional Support and Service Dogs?

While both types of dogs aid people with disabilities, some differences separate them. Here are the main distinctions between emotional support and service dogs to consider.

Emotional Support Dogs

This type of dog provides companionship to an individual with mental health or psychiatric issues. This is a good choice for helping to alleviate one or more symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. Their presence comforts their handler, aiding their ability to move and perform daily tasks.

Emotional support dogs can also help people who feel isolated and lonely. They provide comfort even for those who have specific phobias. These canines might not be allowed into public spaces where service dogs can enter, except for air travel, which might require special requirements. For instance, if an establishment has a “no pets policy,” your animal companion cannot enter, in spite of being and excellent emotional support dog.

You can enroll your emotional support dog in proper training classes, but it’s not mandated. All they have to do is provide you comfort in their presence, not perform specific tasks.

Service Dogs

These canines require specialized training to assist handlers with disabilities. They are offered legal protection through the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects people’s rights to bring them to public spaces, including theaters, shops, hotels, restaurants and government agencies.

Service dogs can perform tasks such as providing nonviolent protection, alerting about the presence of allergens, retrieving items, and assisting an individual during a seizure.

Going far beyond being “man’s best friend,” their primary responsibility is to support their handlers’ daily activities. However, a study found that ex-military personnel paired with service dogs experienced fewer PTSD symptoms than participants with emotional support animals.

Common Misconceptions About Service Dogs

Several common myths exist about these four-legged heroes. Here are some of the most prominent.

They Work All the Time

These animal companions also enjoy a relaxed and playful life like other dogs. They are intelligent dogs and may have a job and a purpose, but they still enjoy playtime when needed.

They Know if People Carry Drugs

While some dogs can probably smell drugs, they have been properly trained and so are equipped with the knowledge to respond appropriately to specific scenarios. Service dogs are trained to only focus on their handlers.

It’s Acceptable to Pet Them When No One’s Looking

Like with any other pet, this behavior is unacceptable. Petting without consent can distract the dog from focusing on helping their handler.

Only German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers Are Legit Service Dogs

Any breed, including small dogs, can be a service animal, provided they are trained to assist individuals with disabilities. Tiny pups are ideal for alerting their handlers about mood changes, while larger breeds make better therapy dogs that can provide stability for people with mobility issues.

16 Best Small Emotional Support and Service Dog Breeds

They might not be gentle giants, but these tiny pups have a big heart for humans. Consider one of the following breeds if you need an emotional support or service dog.

Yorkshire Terriers

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The Yorkshire terrier, also known as a Yorkie, makes a great choice for an emotional support dog for many reasons. They’re petite pups that measure around 8 inches tall and weigh 5-7 pounds, making them ideal for an owner’s lap and when navigating anxiety-inducing social settings.

This breed has long, hypoallergenic fur that grows fast and requires regular grooming through brushing and trimming.

Temperament: Yorkies are brilliant, highly trainable, and brave. They are also capable of being therapy dogs. Sometimes, they bark quickly when they hear suspicious sounds, which can make them loyal companions. However, that may require obedience training to manage properly.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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The friendly Cavalier King Charles spaniel, also known as CKC, enjoys cuddles and snuggling on pillows, making them ideal lap dogs. What lies in its petite size is the athleticism of a sporting spaniel.

Their soft fur, round eyes and long floppy ears give them their distinctive look. These pups get along well with children and other canines, making them great emotional support and service dogs.

Cavalier King Charles spaniels have a calming presence that can help reduce anxiety, making them a comforting companion in stressful situations.

Temperament: These pups are peaceful, gentle and friendly toward people and other animals, including cats. They have expressive eyes that provide peace and happiness to their handlers. Cavalier King Charles spaniels crave attention, but their sweetness may lead to a timid personality.

Jack Russell Terrier

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Jack Russell terriers have short fur, so you don’t need to worry about constant shedding. They are compact, energetic and highly trainable, making them great service animals.

These little pups are also brilliant dogs that can assist individuals with visual or hearing impairments and psychiatric conditions when trained.

Their small size allows them to navigate narrow areas and accompany their handlers wherever they go, making them adaptable service dogs.

Temperament: They love being with their owners, making them great companions and an excellent choice for first-time dog owners. Jack Russell terriers love to run, jump and play. Since they are active canines, they will need a minimum of an hour of exercise daily.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi

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These playful, easygoing pups are perfect if you love a small yet energy-filled companion. Pembroke Welsh Corgis are incredibly affectionate with their handlers but also well-behaved with strangers and other animals.

These furry creatures can also become service animals because they are intelligent and love having responsibilities. Their willingness to learn and help their owners in every possible way makes them one of the best small emotional support dogs.

Temperament: Pembroke Welsh corgis are herding dogs, so they have a strong instinct to protect their owners. They are playful, obedient, and friendly dogs. Their cute, expressive faces can help alleviate negative emotions.


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The Maltese is ideal if you’re looking for an adorable, hypoallergenic, very good emotional support dog.

Maltese tend to stick to their favorite person, making them an excellent choice for single adults living in small apartments. They help comfort their owners through licks and snuggles.

Keep a close eye on them since this dog breed is among the most vulnerable to theft.

Temperament: They are affectionate, gentle, loyal, attentive, and friendly. They are very protective of their owners and are highly adaptable. Maltese really enjoy spending time with their people.


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Havanese dogs may be tiny, but they have big hearts for their owners. They are among the best small emotional support dogs and service animals because of their willingness to learn.

You’ll love their companionship, especially on air travel or road trips. It’s a nonshedding pup that can perform tasks and respond to behavioral issues like harmful actions. They are also intelligent and can detect mood changes in their owners, offering comfort during stressful moments.

Temperament: Havanese are generally calm and courteous to strangers. They are happy dogs that enjoy playing and learning new tricks. Their boundless enthusiasm can brighten your day in an instant.

Mixed Breeds

Mixed breeds provide a combination of two or more dog breeds’ characteristics. They are full of surprises — since they’re a mix of quirks, you’ll never know when they’ll turn out much smaller or larger than you expected. In addition to being adorable, they can be affectionate, loyal and sweet, making them excellent emotional support dogs. These canines are also likely to be healthier than purebreds, who are more prone to hereditary issues.

Temperament: Some mixed breeds showcase protective traits and make excellent guard dogs, while some might be more sociable. You can get them to perform easy tasks with positive reinforcement and training.

Bichon Frisé

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This breed is widely famous for its charm and beauty. The lesser-known fact about the bichon frise is they’re highly trainable lap dogs that support human emotions by showering you with love and affection on gloomy days.

Their white hypoallergenic coat is ideal for allergy-prone people who need a compact dog to cheer them up. Bichon frisés have moderate energy — they can spend hours lying on the floor but love to go outside.

Temperament: These dogs are easygoing and friendly. With training, they make exceptional watchdogs. Their warm disposition and cuddly features make you want to hug them if you need emotional support.

Toy Poodle

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Like standard poodles, toy poodles are intelligent and highly trainable animals. They have a lively attitude but are less active than their larger counterparts.

A toy poodle is ideal for training as an emotional support, service and therapy dog. They aim to please and comfort their owners in every possible way.

Temperament: Their calm manners are ideal for public settings, such as visiting hospitals and other medical institutions. As old hunting breeds, toy poodles respond well to new tricks and provide emotional support by lying on your lap.


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Pomeranians are fluff balls that have the personality of a big dog. They offer comic relief to people who need emotional support.

They can also be trained to do manageable tasks, making them excellent choices for people who have psychiatric disorders, social anxiety and hearing impairment. As medical alert service dogs, Pomeranians can detect epileptic seizures and changes in their handler’s glucose level with proper training.

Temperament: They are intelligent, obedient, loyal and well-behaved in public. They can be feisty and need daily exercise to release their energy. Despite their tiny size, they are strong enough to perform required tasks, such as fetching the TV remote, opening cabinet doors and retrieving small items.

Shih Tzu

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Despite their smug faces, Shih Tzus value human companionship and love indoor living. These dogs make great emotional support animals with their beady eyes, flowing coats and cuddly stature. They are comfortable living in smaller spaces, so this breed is worth considering if you have a small apartment.

You can train a Shih Tzu to perform diabetic, seizure, hearing and psychiatric support. Due to their small size, they also make a good companion dog when traveling and shopping.

Temperament: They are exceptionally loving and friendly to the whole family, especially kids. Shih Tzus are affectionate but not overly clingy. Daily walks and playtime help release their energy. Proper socialization training is essential to keep them well-adjusted.


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Beagles have strong tracking instincts because they belong to the family of hunting dogs. Sweet, friendly, and playful are their personality traits.

Given these positive traits, they can provide emotional support and service to handlers with disabilities, whether guiding individuals with visual impairments or giving them emotional support.

They are compact and sturdy, weighing an average of 20-30 pounds and possessing a balance of agility.

Temperament: Beagles are gentle and friendly. Despite their love for outdoor activities, they can adapt well to small spaces and nap all day.


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These dogs may be small, but their big personalities make them ideal sidekicks for people going through emotional issues.

Chihuahuas are social, active and energetic canines that require exercise to manage their energy levels. Their lively personalities can take your mind off your problems. They can also learn new tricks quickly with positive reinforcement.

Temperament: Chihuahuas are bold canines that sometimes challenge larger dogs. They are playful, loyal and affectionate. They are typically great with children, provided they know or are guided on approaching a small dog.


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The long-bodied dachshund with its short legs is an adorable companion that can provide emotional and therapy support. They love sitting on their handlers’ laps and enjoy outdoor walks with their humans.

Dachshunds also comfort people with social anxiety — they can help an anxious mind calm down with a single look at their big eyes. They also make excellent service dogs with adequate training.

Temperament: These canines are intelligent, affectionate and stubborn. As lively and independent as they might be sometimes, Dachshunds are loving and loyal. They enjoy being in the company of their handlers and will always be nearby for some cuddles.


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Don’t be fooled by its small stature. When you talk to a pug, they twist their heads and offer human-like expressions such as surprise and happiness that will take your worries away.

They are in tune with their handler’s emotions, making them great emotional support dogs for people living with dementia. They also get along nicely with children and seniors.

Temperament: These dogs are energetic and affectionate. Pugs love meeting new people and displaying their affection for anyone who comes to them. They are also low-energy dogs that can get by with minimal exercise.


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What lies beneath an affenpinscher’s comical look is their playfulness, making them amazing emotional support animals.

Also known as monkey terriers, these dogs are friendly, intelligent and can be trained to perform small tasks for you. They’re the ideal choice for a dog that can deal well with playful kids.

Temperament: Affenpinschers aren’t the most friendly to strangers — they may bark at other people or dogs outside. However, with proper training, they can be less feisty. They are quick learners and can adapt well to the environment.

Why Choose a Small Dog Breed?

Little canines offer immense love, affection and joy in their compact bodies. While all dogs are great no matter their size, there are some specific advantages why tiny pups are the best dogs to provide you with emotional support or service.

Less Energy

Small pooches require less physical activity than a high-energy large breed. They are easier to manage than bigger dogs that require you to meet their exercise needs.

More Affordable

Due to their size, small dogs tend to be less expensive than larger canines. Raising them means you don’t have to spend as much money on food. Their grooming fees are also cheaper because it’s easier to groom them.

Easy to Transport

There’s no denying that picking up a Chihuahua is easier than a golden retriever. Tiny dogs are easier to move around than their larger counterparts and fit better in small spaces in the car when going on a road trip. Even better, some breeds fit in a handbag and can sit on your lap comfortably. If you like traveling, having a small emotional support dog can make your adventures easier and more fun.

Great for Apartment-Dwellers

A small space requires a tiny companion to bring joy and fun to the household. A small dog can play without making you squeeze into a corner. It also means there’s more legroom at the end of the bed and you have a lot of free space to enjoy yourself.

Ideal for First-Time Owners

Tiny dogs are easier to care for and control than larger breeds. If silence is essential for controlling your anxiety, you might also find comfort in small pooches that are less vocal, such as the bichon frisé, pug and toy poodle.

What Are the Possible Disadvantages of Having a Small Service Dog Breed?

While small breeds are undeniably adorable, there are some downsides to having one. It’s vital to consider these disadvantages before investing in a pint-sized service dog.

Limited Capabilities

Due to their tiny size, small breeds cannot pull a wheelchair, retrieve large objects or help people with balancing issues.

Size Related Illnesses

Patellar luxation, hypoglycemia and protruding eyeballs are common diseases that tiny pups may be prone to.

Temperament Problems

While generally friendly, some dogs don’t like to be petted by children, as kids can easily injure or step on them accidentally. Small pooches may also trigger a large dog’s predator instinct.

Types of Service Dogs

An emotional support dog isn’t required to do specific tasks. They are affectionate dogs whose presence itself is what relieves the symptoms of the handler’s mental health condition. Meanwhile, trained small service dogs can fall into any category.

Seizure Alert and Response Dogs

These animals are trained to detect signs of an oncoming seizure and protect their handler during the episode. These furry creatures can make the individual sit down or remind them to take medication.

Hearing Dogs

Small breeds make excellent hearing animals and can respond to certain sounds like doorbells, crying babies and alarms. A hearing dog will touch you with a paw and guide you to the sound’s source.

Allergy Detection Dogs

Since they have an exceptional sense of smell, small service dogs can detect tiny traces of allergens in the environment and alert their handlers.

Diabetic Alert Dogs

Dogs can sense changes in blood glucose levels, alerting their handlers when their blood sugar is too high or low. Some service dogs can also learn to notify others in the house in urgent situations.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Small breeds can perform deep pressure stimulation (DPS) using the command “lap,” which orders the dog to jump into their handler’s lap to calm them down. Psychiatric service dogs are ideal for people who experience anxiety, stress and depression. Rather large dogs makes this difficult.

How to Make Your Dog an Emotional Support Animal

A licensed physician, counselor, therapist or social worker should determine if you have an eligible condition for having an emotional support animal. You can only qualify your pooch for this role if you suffer from one or more mental health issues:

  • Learning disorders
  • Autism
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Gender dysphoria
  • Cognitive disorders
  • Severe anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression

No rules require you to register your pup as an emotional support animal. However, you will need an emotional support animal (ESA) letter from your doctor indicating your mental health condition and how your dog helps relieve your symptoms. You can also show this documentation to the landlord to validate your need for one.

Where to Find Service Dogs

You can contact professional institutions and experts who train service dogs. All organizations need you to meet Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Documentation from your physician stating that you have or are being treated for your condition, which requires the presence of a service animal, is also essential.

Another option is to train your service dog. The AKC Canine Good Citizen program provides guidelines for building your dog’s manners. In addition to basic obedience training, your four-legged companion needs proper training to perform specific tasks to assist you properly.

Find Your Emotional Support or Service Dog Today

Consider your connection with the animal when looking for the perfect emotional support or service dog. It’s all about companionship and finding the right pup to brighten up your darkest days or help make daily tasks easier. Consider any of these small breeds when choosing your perfect pal and remember to enjoy the process.

A little canine companion can make your life easier, brighten your days and become your best friend for life.

About the Author

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Beth Rush

Beth Rush

Beth Rush is the Managing Editor and Content Manager at Body+Mind.

Body+Mind features articles about diet, fitness, mental health, parenting and health care.



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