The Best Dogs for People with Anxiety

A little bit of anxiety is good. It helps us stay alert and survive potentially life-threatening situations. A lotta bit of anxiety? Not so much. If you’re looking for a healthy way to manage general anxiety, heightened anxiety disorders or emotional distress, suggests (drum roll, please) pets! Yes, animals could be the difference between controlling anxious feelings and letting them take over. Dogs have been used as therapy and companion animals for centuries. The best dogs for people with anxiety will help their owners feel more confident, calm and able to cope with stressful situations.

How dogs can benefit people with anxiety

Aside from being adorable and fluffy, dogs can help people with anxiety on a physical level. Studies have shown pet owners have lower resting heart rates and blood pressure levels than people without pets. Pet people also have less intense reactions to aggravating events and faster recovery time after experiencing psychological or physical stress.

Harvard Health also mentions dogs can help a person stay active (hello, early morning dog walks) and feel less isolated (hello, constant roommate). A Human Animal Bond Research Institute survey discovered 80 percent of pet owners feel less lonely with a pet. Dogs can be excellent ice breakers when meeting someone new; pups don’t mind being center stage.

Even spending time with a dog is good for stress reduction. One study found university students who participated in an animal visitation program exhibited lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels after just ten minutes petting a dog! Staring at pictures of animals did not achieve the same results.

Types of support dogs

Dogs are so good at supporting humans when it comes to mental health, we’ve given them official titles! There are emotional support dogs, therapy dogs and service dogs, just to name a few. These are all different in the eyes of the law - and a person can definitely adopt a dog specifically to help ease anxiety without having to register the animal anywhere as such. These designations come in handy primarily when it’s time to travel or visit a public space.

Service dogs are top tier. They’re highly trained animals recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act that not only provide emotional support but also perform a function that their human owner cannot. Service dogs are trained—and legally allowed—to go everywhere with their owner.

Therapy dogs also go through rigorous training and testing to get certified, but aren’t usually employed full-time by someone in need. Instead, they provide social-emotional benefits to a variety of people like students, hospital patients and nursing home residents. Therapy dogs do not have the legal access or privileges that a service dog has.

Emotional support animals are companion animals medical professionals (such as psychiatrists) prescribe to patients with physical, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities, like anxiety or PTSD. ESAs receive no special training or regulated certification, nor are they required to by law. However, ESAs are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, which says landlords cannot discriminate against tenants who have an emotional support animal. (Also, they can be any species! Dogs, cats, even horses have served as emotional support animals.) A note from a licensed medical professional is usually required to bring an ESA on an airplane or into a public business.

Finally, there are companion pets. Companion dogs are similar to emotional support and therapy dogs but are different in the eyes of the law. Aka, these pets do not have legal access to the same areas that emotional support, therapy and service animals do. People suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD and similar ailments that prevent them from enjoying life are ideal candidates for companion dogs.

How to choose the right breed

Now, the tricky part: Choosing the best dog to help reduce anxiety. The CDC advises doing significant research before adopting the first pet you see. All individuals—human and dog—have needs that must be met. The best match might take a while to find. Be patient! Visit local shelters or reputable breeders to experience a breed first hand.

Key elements to consider are:

  • Temperament: Dogs who are less reactive with lower prey drives won’t bark at the drop of a hat or take off running when they spot a squirrel. Calm breeds who can adapt to their human’s lifestyle are ideal.
  • Energy Level: If exercise keeps a person’s anxiety at bay, get a dog who has lots of energy! If introversion and being a homebody is the name of the game, stick with breeds who are content lounging at home.
  • Size: Folks who want a companion dog that can travel anywhere with them should focus on smaller breeds.
  • Grooming needs: Do regular (expensive) trips to the groomer’s sound anxiety-inducing? Opt for a low-maintenance breed and relax knowing all it takes is a weekly brushing to keep their coat in check.
  • Trainability: Ideally, a canine who reduces anxiety will learn quickly, retain commands and respond when called.

Remember, focusing solely on breed may not be the best route. All dogs have unique personalities. The breeds on our list are ones we know to be soothing presences, eager to please and fairly low-maintenance.

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1. Chihuahua

Temperament: Charming, Independent

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 6.5 inches

Average Weight: 5 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 6/10

At six pounds max, they’re as low maintenance as dogs get, requiring little exercise beyond shopping for sweaters. Small enough to snuggle in bed and sympathetic enough to nurse Elle Woods through heartbreak, they will follow you from room to room looking for attention. An ideal distraction from your inner monologue.

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2. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Temperament: Adaptable, Sweet

Energy Level: High

Average Height: 11.5 inches

Average Weight: 30 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 8/10

Obedient and loyal “without being needy” (according to the American Kennel Club)—is it any wonder Queen Elizabeth can’t get enough? Quick to bond with humans, they are often tapped as companion dogs for nursing home residents and people with disabilities. They’ll adore sitting at your feet while you sip a comforting cup of tea. Right, Liz?

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3. French Bulldog

Temperament: Affectionate, Even-tempered

Energy Level: Low

Average Height: 12 inches

Average Weight: 22 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 7/10

This squishy-faced lapdog deserves its popularity. Frenchies are flexible, even-tempered and all about snuggling away a bad day. Training can be tricky because these sweeties are stubborn, but they make great roomies for homebodies.

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4. Cocker Spaniel

Temperament: Sweet, Happy, Obedient

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 14.5 inches

Average Weight: 25 pounds

Grooming: Brush Regularly

Trainability: 10/10

Sweet and extremely child-friendly, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s preferred breed is known to connect with kids facing mental health or emotional challenges, per Animal Planet. Plus, their fluff factor is off the charts. Just bury your nose—and your worries—in their long, silky fur.

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5. Dachshund

Temperament: Curious, Sensitive

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 8.5 inches (Standard), 5.5 inches (Miniature)

Average Weight: 24 pounds (Standard), 10 pounds (Miniature)

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 5/10

Playful and affectionate, wiener dogs are also innately hilarious. You’ll be so amused by their everyday ambles around town, fear won’t have room to rear its head. (Hey, there’s even a museum dedicated to them.) They’re smart, but sensitive, so be nice with training tactics.

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6. Golden Retriever

Temperament: Friendly, Loyal

Energy Level: High

Average Height: 23 inches

Average Weight: 65 pounds

Grooming: Brush Regularly

Trainability: 10/10

There are many reasons why Goldens (and their various doodle hybrids) are some of the most popular therapy, guide and rescue dogs, alongside Labradors. They usually ace the Canine Good Citizen test—the gold standard for certifying emotional support animals. Highly intelligent and easily trained, their always-happy temperaments can shift from playful to placid with ease.

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7. Labrador Retriever

Temperament: Playful, Obedient

Energy Level: High

Average Height: 23 inches

Average Weight: 67.5 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 10/10

See above (and know that Labs are just as keen on learning commands and pleasing humans as Goldens are).

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8. Yorkshire Terrier (yorkie)

Temperament: Feisty, Doting

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 7.5 inches

Average Weight: 6 pounds

Grooming: High Maintenance

Trainability: 5/10

According to Animal Planet, during World War II, Dr. Charles Mayo of Mayo Clinic fame took a Yorkshire terrier on his rounds to see injured naval officers. The Yorkie so lifted the soldiers’ spirits, he became the first-ever therapy dog. With a pedigree like that, a tendency to establish tight bonds with their owners and a willingness to travel anywhere by shoulder bag, this little breed has a whole lot to offer.

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9. Greyhound

Temperament: Independent, Sweet

Energy Level: Moderate to High

Average Height: 27.5 inches

Average Weight: 65 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 7/10

Despite being able to sprint up to 35 miles per hour, these gentle giants—many of them retirees rescued from racetracks—prefer to lie around. Incredibly sweet and docile (they rarely bark), with smooth soft coats, they make ideal roommates. Bonus? They “hug” by leaning their often-hundred-pound bodies against their human’s legs.

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10. Saint Bernard

Temperament: Playful, Patient

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 28 inches

Average Weight: 140 pounds

Grooming: Low

Trainability: 8/10

Loving, eager to please and tolerant of even the wildest domestic animals (small kids), it’s no wonder J.M. Barrie said a Saint Bernard inspired the Darling children’s nanny in Peter Pan (yes, even though Nana was a Newfoundland). These massive teddy bears can reach 180 pounds but only require moderate exercise. With their deep soulful eyes and patient demeanors, they’re like ashwagandha in dog form.

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11. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Temperament: Adaptable, Affectionate

Energy Level: Low

Average Height: 12.5 inches

Average Weight: 15.5 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 9/10

Known for their adaptability to their owners’ routines, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will happily bend to meet you where you are on any given day—it's why we consider them the single best dogs for renters. Soft as silk and eager to snuggle, Cavs are soothing creatures to have around. Plus, their low prey drive makes them ideal walking buddies.

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12. Pug

Temperament: Adaptable, Charming

Energy Level: Low to Moderate

Average Height: 11.5 inches

Average Weight: 16 pounds

Grooming: Low

Trainability: 9/10

These tiny—yet sturdy—dogs were bred as companions dogs for emperors in ancient China. Later on, they were the favorites of Dutch and British monarchs. Known for their goofy personalities, Pugs can go with the flow and offer nothing but love and devotion.

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13. Bernese Mountain Dog

Temperament: Calm, Affectionate

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 25.5 inches

Average Weight: 92 pounds

Grooming: Brush Frequently

Trainability: 8/10

Gentle souls like Bernese Mountain dogs get along swimmingly with kids and other animals. Often, they’ll pick a favorite person and won’t be afraid to show it. While they need ample exercise, they’re also content lounging around with said favorite person, meditating or quietly contemplating life’s little joys.

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14. Miniature American Shepherd

Temperament: Smart, Easy-going

Energy Level: High

Average Height: 15.5 inches

Average Weight: 30 pounds

Grooming: Brush Regularly

Trainability: 9/10

These stunners are ideal medium-sized dogs for folks who enjoy constant companionship but aren’t eager to have a giant Saint Bernard roaming their home. The Miniature American Shepherd is incredibly loyal and even keel. Their intelligence makes training a breeze.

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15. Newfoundland

Temperament: Patient, Sweet

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 27 inches

Average Weight: 125 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 8/10

It’s hard not to feel safe and secure around a giant, fluffy Newfoundland. These dogs may look intimidating, but they’re known for their patience and ability to bring joy and comfort to people of all ages.

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Sarah Ashley

Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...
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