Dogs have an incredible, intuitive ability to make people happy. Call us crazy, but it might be their puppy dog eyes, soft fur, general cuteness and undying devotion. Some canines are so good at making people feel at ease, they are considered companion dogs. According to U.S. Service Animals, “Companion dogs function as constant partners in the daily lives of those who find themselves suffering from anxiety or emotional distress on their own.” Unlike service dogs, who are trained to respond in specific ways and perform specific tasks for a designated person living with a disability, companion dogs simply provide a reassuring presence to their human. They can be any breed or size, though the best companion dogs are intelligent, obedient and affectionate. As long as the dog effectively meets a person’s needs, they’re good to go!
It’s worth noting companion dogs are similar to emotional support and therapy dogs but are different in the eyes of the law. This is an important distinction when it comes to travel, housing and visiting public buildings or businesses. Pets for Patriots, an awesome organization that pairs shelter animals with veterans, notes that companion dogs do not have legal access to the same areas that emotional support, therapy and service animals do.
Emotional support animals are not legally recognized, but they are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, which says landlords cannot discriminate against tenants who have an emotional support animal. However, effective January 11, 2021, airlines are allowed to place emotional support animals and regular pets in the same category—meaning an airline can prevent you from taking your dog on a plane if you don’t have paperwork stating your dog needs to travel right next to you.
Therapy animals, on the other hand, provide many people with comfort on a daily basis. For instance, there is a horse in Calais, France, who roams the halls of a hospital with his owner, providing soothing experiences to cancer patients. Therapy dogs are common in courthouses, giving victims cuddly reassurance before and after difficult testimonies.
Companion dogs are excellent partners for people suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD and similar ailments that prevent a person from enjoying life. If you feel you need a companion dog by your side, we recommend starting with these breeds. Adopting a dog is always our favorite option, because it gives a dog a new lease on life. But, many shelter animals are mixed breeds. Working with a licensed breeder will provide more predictability of a dog’s temperament and trainability. Just something to consider!
1. American Eskimo Dog
Average Height: 10.5 inches (toy), 13.5 inches (miniature), 17 inches (standard)
Average Weight: 8 pounds (toy), 15 pounds (miniature), 30 pounds (standard)
American Eskimo dogs, often called Eskies, are some of the smartest, most outgoing canines you’ll meet. The American Kennel Club says these friendly, fluffy white dogs are descendants of German Spitzes and used to be featured performers in circus acts! (You’ll see plenty of spitz family members on this list, as they adore people and train easily.) Eskies learn commands quickly and love being near their human family. In fact, without anything to do or anyone to hang out with for long periods of time, they can become destructive. Perfect for folks in need of constant companionship.
2. Australian Kelpie
Average Height: 18.5 inches
Average Weight: 38.5 pounds
Born to herd sheep, the Australian Kelpie thrives when there’s a job to do (and don’t tire if the work is repetitive). They are incredibly smart and pick up new commands with ease. With a loyal personality and eagerness to please, these dogs will stand by your side as long as you’ll let them. Australian Kelpies do best with active owners and families.
3. Bernese Mountain Dog
Average Height: 25.5 inches
Average Weight: 92 pounds
One of the softest, kindest breeds is the Bernese Mountain Dog. These are larger animals with calm dispositions, so they’re ideal for folks in need of a soothing presence. Unafraid to show affection with their friends and family, Bernese Mountain dogs might be wary of strangers.
4. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Average Height: 12.5 inches
Average Weight: 15.5 pounds
In addition to their low prey drive, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are incredibly adaptable and low maintenance. They easily shift gears to fit their human’s routine and energy. Happy to meet new people and pets, they’re quite sociable. Anyone in the market for a smaller companion dog breed should consider these sweet pups first.
Average Height: 6.5 inches
Average Weight: 5 pounds
Alright, so Chihuahuas are a little more independent and harder to train. But! They can be excellent toy-sized companions for someone who wants to take their pup everywhere. Chihuahuas are known for their loyalty (to one person) and personality (usually cheerful, but sometimes sassy). They’ve been around for centuries, so can you blame them for being a little demanding?
6. English Springer Spaniel
Average Height: 19.5 inches
Average Weight: 45 pounds
A lovable, affectionate medium-sized dog, the English Springer Spaniel is ready to serve and play. Bred to hunt, they have excellent obedience skills and thrive working closely with humans. Long walks are a favorite activity of these long-eared sweethearts.
7. Golden Retriever
Average Height: 23 inches
Average Weight: 65 pounds
Possibly the most common service and therapy dog breed is the golden retriever. These gentle, affectionate, intelligent and obedient creatures enjoy performing commands and being included in whatever their favorite people are up to. Great with strangers and other pets, they’re pretty much an ideal companion.
8. Icelandic Sheepdog
Average Height: 17 inches
Average Weight: 27 pounds
Icelandic sheepdogs are herders and members of the “spitz” family. Nothing makes them happier than spending time with you, as they are playful, smart and hopelessly devoted to pleasing their families. As an energetic breed, these pups require plenty of mental and physical activity.
9. Japanese Spitz
Average Height: 13.5 inches
Average Weight: 17.5 pounds
Hello! Another spitz. You may mistake these dogs for American Eskimo dogs—both in appearance and personality. Outgoing and goofy, the Japanese Spitz is game for just about anything. They learn easily and happily follow commands. Plus, that fluffy coat will provide soothing softness to anyone who pets them.
Average Height: 17.5 inches
Average Weight: 40 pounds
These extroverts were bred to work right alongside humans on the canals of Holland. The Keeshond’s ability to learn quickly, obey willingly and love openly has earned them a solid reputation as terrific therapy dogs. Surprise: They’re part of the spitz family!
11. Labrador Retriever
Average Height: 23 inches
Average Weight: 67.5 pounds
Another service dog all-star is the Labrador retriever. Labs are playful, active and friendly. Meeting new people is basically a hobby (aka, they aren’t reactive and will get along well with other pets). Commands and obedience come naturally to these lovable canines.
Average Height: 8 inches
Average Weight: 6 pounds
While Maltese pups are intelligent enough to learn commands, they might conveniently “forget” them if you don’t use them often enough. Train early and be consistent! These dogs are incredibly sweet-natured and make excellent companions for folks looking for a lapdog or small breed.
Average Height: 10 inches
Average Weight: 7.5 pounds
Another small but mighty dog on our list! The Papillon is brainy and buoyant, ready to follow through on commands at a moment’s notice. They adapt to just about any environment and have a positivity about them that makes them irresistible. Bred to accompany European royalty about town, these dogs know how to mingle.
Average Height: 10 inches (toy), 12.5 inches (miniature), 20.5 inches (standard)
Average Weight: 7.5 pounds (toy), 16 pounds (miniature), 58 pounds (standard)
One of the smartest dog breeds, poodles are serious, athletic and dedicated beings. They’re like the brainiacs who not only excel in school but also enjoy learning and are always eager for more knowledge. Don’t let that fool you into thinking they aren’t softies, though. Cuddling is always on the table.
Average Height: 21 inches
Average Weight: 50 pounds
Again, you may mistake the Samoyed for an Eskie or a Japanese Spitz! These dogs, however, are calmer and slightly more independent. Training them early and firmly, will ensure they retain commands and are obedient. Often called Sammies, they were bred in the arctic by the Samoyedic people of Siberia, so living with humans is their favorite place to be.