8 Best Dogs For Depression: Canines to Help Cope When You’re Down

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Breeds By Kayla Fratt 9 min read July 26, 2022 9 Comments

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best dogs for depression

The beneficial affects of dogs on people with depression has been well documented, and is it really any surprise?

Those furry, four-legged, tail-wagging dogs bring tons of joy into our lives, and for those coping with depression, the unconditional love of a dog can have tremendous power.

Dogs can help with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other mental health issues that affect your day-to-day life. Some dogs even provide emotional support as a full-time gig, working as service animals that are placed in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other locations.

While the advantages of dog ownership are huge, it’s worth asking – what are the best dogs for depression? You’ll want to find the right dog for you.

Picking the wrong dog for your lifestyle can increase stress and anxiety, so finding a dog that’s a good fit is essential for reaping the mood-boosting benefits of canine ownership.

How Dogs Can Help Alleviate Depression

Owning a dog can help improve mood and reduce stress levels – as a result, dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. 

Nearly any dog has the potential to alleviate one’s depression. This is why a dog needs no formal training or certification to be considered an emotional support animal (ESA) — animals can provide us with emotional support simply through their presence!

Dogs can alleviate depression in a number of ways:

  • Unconditional Love. Dogs provide an abundant source of unconditional love. Dogs don’t care what kind of person you are or what kind of problems you have – they’ll love you regardless.
  • Responsibility & Sense of Worth. Having another creature depend on you for their needs can add a great sense of value in a person’s life. Being able to provide food, water, and care for another living being allows us to feel important and provides a sense of worth.
  • Activity. Exercising a dog, like all exercise, also releases serotonin and dopamine. Having a dog to walk gives owners a reason to get beneficial exercise, and also owners outside for some fresh air.
  • Meet New People. Dogs help their owners meet new people and make friends – who doesn’t want to meet their neighbor with the new puppy?
  • Routine. Caring for a pet can add structure, routine, and purpose to your day. For those suffering from depression, a set, regular routine can be very comforting and helpful.
  • Physical Touch. We often don’t acknowledge the power of physical touch. Touching another living creature can be very comforting, and petting (or cuddling) a dog can go a long way in reducing stress. Playing with animals has also been shown to release serotonin and dopamine (those great good-feeling drugs). If you’re looking to train an emotional support dog, teaching your dog to come in for a good cuddle on cue is a great starting point!
  • Better Health. Dog owners have lower blood pressure than those without pets, especially in stressful situations

In this video, YouTube blogger Erin discusses how her dog Digby helps her cope with her depression – have a watch!

Choosing the Right Dog for Your Personality

While it’s been well demonstrated that dogs can help reduce depression, it’s important to consider which canine characteristics and traits will best benefit your individual needs.

For some people with depression, a happy-go-lucky goofball like a retriever is ideal. Active dogs like retrievers can help owners get out and be active, boosting endorphins and improving mood.

best dogs for curing depression

However, others may find that type of dog to be exhausting and frustrating, making things worse. These people may do better with a cuddly Havanese.

Talk to your mental health professional and your potential dog’s breeder to better understand which types of dogs will suit your emotional and physical needs.

8 Best Dogs For Depression: Canines That Can Cure the Blues

We consider these canines as the best dogs for depression due to their personality and behavior, but they are by no means the only dogs out there for those suffering from depression.

Still, if you’re not sure where to start, check these dogs out – they are sure to brighten your day!

1) Havanese  

Outgoing, funny, and intelligent are the words that the American Kennel Club uses to describe the Havanese. This small, medium-energy dog is a cheery ball of fluff that is sure to brighten up your day.

Besides regular grooming and mellow walking, Havanese generally should not be high-maintenance and are great companions to come home to. Havanese are also hypoallergenic and known for having great, easy-going personalities.

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2) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

This affectionate, gentle dog was a top pick for royalty back in the day. Their easygoing nature, small size, and medium energy level make them similar to the Havanese. However, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels tend to have less hair and are slightly more active.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are laid back with children and other dogs. They are happy to snuggle on the couch or go for long walks in the park.


3) Border Collie

If you’re looking for a dog that will challenge you to get out, exercise, and work on training, look no further than the Border Collie.

Border Collies are incredibly intelligent and high-energy. These dogs need a lot of exercise, but if you’re up for the challenge, few dogs are more rewarding. Working on training and tricks with your Border Collie can be incredibly fun and motivating, as long as you are willing to dedicate the time and focus.

Border Collies can be huge cuddle buddies and are very affectionate. However, they can also be shy, so they need more early-life socialization than other dogs


4) Golden Retriever

It’s hard to beat a Golden when it comes to their goofy nature and playfulness.

Like the Border Collie, Golden Retrievers are a great option if you are looking for a dog to help you get out of the house, as they need a decent amount of exercise. These larger sized dogs generally love everyone and everything they meet, and are famous for their constant smiles.

Golden Retrievers and Golden mixes are generally good with children and all other pets. They are also incredibly trainable and smart, making it clear why they’re the third most popular breed in the US. However, if you’re not up for daily walking or play, the Golden may not be for you.

Golden Retrievers continue to be a common dog that is registered as an emotional support animal, and they’re popular for service dogs too.


5) American Staffordshire Terrier

While Am-Staffs (as they’re commonly called) may look standoffish, they can be incredibly sweet companions.

American Staffordshire Terriers are in the “pit bull” unofficial group, but don’t let that deter you (especially since pit bulls really get a much worse rap than they deserve). Am-Staffs are smart, confident, and loyal.

Good-natured dogs with huge smiles, they love to play. They are known for being quite silly at times, and with proper early-life socialization, they will be great with kids, strangers, dogs, and small animals. They need less exercise than Border Collies or Golden Retrievers, and are between them size-wise.

Be careful to get them from a responsible breeder and ensure that your living space allows “pit bull” breeds. Owning an Am-Staff can be incredibly rewarding – these dogs are natural comforters and protectors.


6) Sighthounds

This group of dogs includes greyhounds and whippets. Despite being bred for racing, these dogs are often major couch potatoes.

These dogs are calm and affectionate, and this group comes in a variety of sizes with similar temperaments. It’s hard to go wrong!

whippet for depression

7) Pug

If you’re looking for a charming, small companion to brighten your day, pugs are a fantastic option.. These cute little dogs are playful with medium energy, and are known for being well-mannered. You can’t get much more different looks-wise from a whippet!

Their even tempers and loving personalities make pugs an American favorite. They are prone to breathing issues, making them not ideal for joggers, but a great option for apartment-dwellers short on running space.

pugs for depression

8) Shiba Inu

Shibas – “inu” just means dog in Japanese – are known to be attentive, alert, and active.

These little dogs can be very catlike in their behavior, so be prepared for a playful but independent companion. They can be aloof and tricky to train, but their small size and easygoing nature makes up for this.

Shibas aren’t the best for novice owners who want a cuddle buddy, but their unique personality wins them many fans who are up for a challenge and aren’t huge fans of “velcro dogs” who can’t leave your side.

Quirky and fun, Shibas are sure to brighten up your life without adding too much of an exercise and social burden. While they are similar in size and energy level to pugs, these breeds are not interchangeable!


Breeds: A Good Starting Point

Dog breeds have been bred for specific purposes over the years, with different breeds displaying different personality traits, behaviors, and care requirements.

We’re detailing the recommended dog breeds or breed groups that often work well as emotional support animals and are commonly considered best dogs for depression.

Once you have identified a breed or breed group (ie, shepherds, terriers, or retrievers) that interest you, start speaking to owners, breeders, or rescue staff that work with these dogs. These animal care professionals and owners can help you identify individual dogs that will work best for your lifestyle.

Big differences exist between working versus show lines in many breeds, so talking to your breeder or shelter staff is just as important as doing early research on various breeds.

While dog breeds have been developed of the years for specific purposes, each dog is an individual, so make sure to get to know your potential canine partner before bringing them home permanently.

What About A Rescue Dog for Depression?

It’s also worth noting that you by no means need to get a purebred dog – make sure to consider adopting a rescue dog from a shelter.

These dogs tend to have boundless love to give, and are often especially appreciative of finding their new forever home. Mixed breed dogs, often found in shelters, can have the best of multiple breeds, so make sure to consider them for your canine companion!

Warning: Dogs Are Not a Blanket Cure for Depression

While owning a dog can certainly go a long way towards helping uplift someone with depression, bringing home a dog doesn’t instantly make you a different person. In fact, bringing home a new pet can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming situation.

Owning a dog often requires a serious lifestyle change, and adds a whole new host of responsibilities not everyone will be prepared to meet. Be sure to think long and hard before bringing home a new dog.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not you can handle the burden of pet ownership, consider fostering a dog from your local animal shelter! Not only does fostering provide a shelter dog with a much-needed break from the stressful shelter environment, it also gives you a trial period to practice pet ownership, allowing you to find out if you’re really ready for a long-term canine commitment.

Do you have an emotional support pet, official or unofficial? How does your dog help you through the day? Share your experience in the comments!

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Written by

Kayla Fratt

Kayla Fratt is a conservation detection dog trainer and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a member of the American Society for K9 Trainers, and is a member of Dog Writer’s Association of America. She lives in her van with her two border collies traveling the country to help biologists detect data with her nonprofit, K9 Conservationists. Before coming to K9 of Mine, Kayla worked at Denver Dumb Friends League and Humane Society of Western Montana as a Behavior Technician. She owns her own dog training business, Journey Dog Training and holds a degree in biology from Colorado College. When she’s not writing or training Barley and Niffler, Kayla enjoys cross-country skiing, eating sushi, drinking cocktails, and going backpacking.


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Victoria Thompson

I had 6 JackRats,I lost my last pup-pup 6months ago. They were the best years of my life. I have suffered from depression and anxiety since I was very young and I remember that. Since they have been gone my depression and anxiety have been so much worse. I want another dog so badly,but I worry about my age. I tried a cat but they don’t cuddle and they definitely don’t need me,except for food,I feel so used!! LOL

Ben Team

Hey, Victoria.
We’re sorry to hear about your battles with depression and anxiety, but we’re glad the dogs seem to have helped.

It’s obviously not fun to question whether or not you’ll live long enough to bring a new dog into your life, but you could consider adopting an older rescue pup. It may also be worth adopting a dog, and then introducing him to a close friend or family member with whom he could spend a lot of time. You could then leave instructions that he’d go and live with this friend when the time comes.

Either way, we wish you the very best of luck and hope you figure out a way to incorporate dogs into your life.

Linda Ash

I love my dogs as if they are my children. They are the reason I get up and the reason I go to bed. I’ve had 2 minature schnazer and 2 Welsh Terrier. My welshie is my confidant my best friend and loving partner in life. She love me when I’m down and I’ve loved on her so much that if I cry she comes to me and licks me then puts her head on my shoulder.

Ben Team

Dogs certainly can help us get through difficult times (and enjoy the good times even more).
Glad you found your little Welshie, Linda.
Thanks for sharing with us.

Andrea Harris

Puppies & kittens are not simply animals, but they are considered to be one of the best companions when someone finds himself in a state of loneliness, emptiness or worthlessness. These domestic little animals read the mind of the person with depressive feelings and provide him the company he is looking for. To fill this emptiness, experienced mental health specialists like ESA Doctors, recommend ESA and provide the patients with an ESA letter so that the person may not have to part away from the company of puppy or kitten.


HELP!!! I’ve been looking for an ESA/Service dog for a while now and am finding the prices to be way beyond my price range. I moved to be near my 2 children and 6 grandchildren, then last year(2017) they both moved away and in Oct. I lost my sweet Luna, a Border/Aussie of almost 17. She was a natural for my PTSD and depression of 16 years due to the death of my 16y.o. son in my home. She ALWAYS knew when I was ‘going down’ or having nightmares, and with her nose like a shovel she would dig her way under my covers or come to me a
nd stare until I’d take her outside where she’d just sit and look around. And it wasn’t just me… if she sensed someone was in distress, she’d go to them and sit there until they’d pet her & cheer up. Now she’s gone and I live alone in a strange town. I’m 64 and my limited SSDI does not go far. I recently had back surgery, and financially cannot move where my family is, making me desperate for my new pup! I have no reason to leave my apartment except for an appointment or groceries. I’m looking for a smaller female pup between 6-10 weeks old, under 25# so I can lift her, with a MIX of small Poodle, or mini-Schnauzer, or Tibetan Terrier, or Maltese, Shih Tzu, etc.etc. for their low shedding and calmer qualities, but I know there’s many other mixtures out there I’d be happy with, if not for the crazy prices.I will pay a rehoming fee, but just can’t do the thousands$$$ being asked, and I’ve found many of those:-( I’m in E. OR now visiting my daughter & her babies, but will be heading back to MT, going through Kennewick, Spokane, Kellogg, Coeur d’alene after July 4th. We’re also going to Bend on the 4th if anything’s there. I can gladly get references for how well I cared & loved Luna.

Kayla Fratt

Corrie, have you tried speaking to rescues and shelters along your travels? They often have smaller dogs available and may be able to match you with an ESA prospect for far less than working with a breeder.


You must be a true animal lover! Mixed breeds are the best anyway!


Kayla & Laurie- I’d forgotten I’d written this, then stumbled on it after writing another comment just now:
“My beautiful Border/Aussie, Luna, adopted me while camping. I finally found her owner after becoming very attached to each other, and he came to get her:( But the next year called to say I could have her because she was left home alone a lot. She was so smart and loving, but after breaking a leg she had to settle down. I have PTSD, resulting in debilitating depression & anxiety. She instinctively knew when I was struggling and would start kissing me. She’d wake me up from a nightmare. I would cover my head and with her shovel-like nose she would get it under the covers, crying a little and not quitting until I gave in; me getting up to take her outside where she would just sit there next to me and look around- she faked having to go potty! Or if I was crying, she’d crawl up and put her paws around my neck licking my tears. I worked a while at a Rehab Center and took her with me; she’d roam freely visiting with the patients. It never failed that when I’d go looking for her, she’d be in with the person having the hardest time, just sleeping by them. One man told me that if it wasn’t for her, he’d have left the 3rd day. In group sessions, she’d go from person to person for a pet, until finding one to lie down by; everyone loved her by the time they left. Sadly, 2 years ago, her body gave up, maybe a brain tumor, her front legs crossed when she tried to walk. She hung on for me as long as she could. My vet called her my ‘once in a lifetime dog’, and I still grieve. Now finances are preventing me from finding another one to love. I’m a senior, and the prices people want for mixed-breeds is is crazy. I’ve been checking local shelters where they want $200, and won’t tell you what they think the breed is; I know many mixes I would like, but have to have some idea. No, I can’t go through getting a ‘senior’ dog, and be crushed again. You’d think Medicare would help, but there is no help out there for something better than Rx’s! What is wrong with our system?!”
(PS- my car blew up the same year I lost Luna, making it all even more challenging; I’m desperate & symptoms are worse. And yes, mixed breeds are best, but I have to be more cautious in apt. living.)


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