How Dogs Improve Mental Health
Most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals. However, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond, and how dogs really help to improve our mental health.More
Pets come with some powerful health benefits. Especially dogs. Cats can be wonderful too, but dogs have been domesticated by humans for much, much longer, and, as even the most devoted cat lover will admit, dogs are far easier to train for companionship. Most cats, as we know, are admirable for entirely different reasons. Dogs teach us a whole range of lessons. They love us unconditionally. They’re entirely indifferent to factors that we usually judge upon such as race, gender, star sign, clothes size or even the ability to throw cool moves on the dance floor. The simplicity and depth of this love is a continuous joy, along with the health benefits of daily walks and the social delights of chats with other dog walkers. Dogs teach children to be responsible, altruistic and compassionate and, valuably but sadly, how to cope when someone you love dies. We may as well call them superheroes.
Most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals. However, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond, and how dogs really help to improve our mental health
Ways to Improve Mental Health With Dogs
Maintaining good mental health habits is crucial to living a happy, healthy life. Poor mental health can cause physical health problems if left untreated. There are several ways you can care for your mental health every day, including getting a dog. Simply by living with you, these furry friends can help regulate your mood, reduce feelings associated with poor mental health, and even help reduce physical health symptoms associated with stress. The structure and routine that pet parenting provides can be a great comfort and inspire several healthy habits that can vastly improve your quality of life.
Pet Care and Self Care
Pet care and self-care are linked. When you take a dog out for a walk, people talk to you and that may be the only social contact an isolated person has for the entire day. If you have a cat, you can have a conversation standing in the cat food aisle in the supermarket, deciding which brand to buy. When pet owners leave the house to buy pet food, they’re more likely to buy food for themselves and when they feed their pet, they’ll sit down to eat too. People with disabilities often find that able-bodied people are socially awkward with them; if they have a dog it breaks down barriers and allows a more comfortable and natural interaction.
Practicing self-care produces happy hormones in your brain which will uplift your mood, sharpen focus and increase your motivation for the next 24 hours. With just these 2 pieces of information it is not hard to imagine how much stronger the benefits of our self care routine could be if we were to combine it with time with our dog(s), as animals have an inbuilt drive to practice self-care on a daily basis and they are willing to share their knowledge and energy with us. When we bring our pets into our self care routine it will provide us with the opportunity to learn from them and create strong bonds with them.
Mental Health Benefits of Owning A Dog
Dogs Are Mood Boosters
Dogs are huge mood-boosters, especially for people who are suffering from illness or loneliness. Having a dog provides us with social support which improves our overall well-being. Did you know, just gazing into your dog’s eyes releases the “feel-good” hormones oxytocin and dopamine. In addition, they provide companionship, comfort and an established routine, all of which can be helpful in managing depression or melting away a stressful day. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a survey of pet owners showed that 74% reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75% reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health had improved from pet ownership. Next time you need a mood booster, connect with your furry bestie and do some soulful eye gazing.
Dogs Make Us More Comfortable Around Other Humans
Just mentioning a dog can be a powerful addition to a conversation. Dogs act as “social catalysts,” which is science jargon for “they make people talk to each other and hang out more.” If you are at a social gathering and need a conversation starter, try sharing a funny story about your dog or pet, and see who responds. You may end up making a friend for life.
Dogs Make You Less Stressed
Studies have found that owning a dog is great for your stress levels, as in, it lowers them. By lowering your stress, our pets also help lower their owners’ risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and stroke. Who doesn’t love a good comeback story? Dogs can make us worry less, which has a beneficial effect on overall stress and anxiety levels.
Dogs Keep Us Active
Physical activity is a key component of self-care and improving mental health. As Reese Witherspoon’s character Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde” says, “exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy”. Owning a dog has been shown to increase overall activity levels such as daily walks, trips to the dog park, and not to mention: fetch, tug-o-war, and other forms of physical play. It’s important for their health to stay active, which means it’s important for you to keep them active. A win/win.
Dogs Help You Sleep Better
Getting plenty of sleep each night is an important component of your self-care routine. Recent studies have found that many people (women, in particular) actually prefer to sleep with their dogs or cats over their own partners, and even report sleeping better with a pet than with a human as their bedmate. Snuggling in the bed is a great mood booster, and can add to the feeling of overall security and safety.
Dogs Make Work More Enjoyable
Pets relieve stress in the workplace. Yes, you heard that right! They raise our oxytocin levels and reduce levels of the stress hormone known as cortisol, which can run rampant during work hours. They also increase productivity, which is why more offices and businesses have become dog friendly over the years. People who work in pet-friendly offices are willing to work more hours and take fewer days off than employees who are not allowed to bring their pets to work. If you are still commuting to the office, and pets are not a typical sight, consider organizing a “Take Your Pet to Work Day” as a way to boost morale, connect with co-workers and raise awareness for local animal shelters. Are you still working from home? Having a dog will make for a much better work at home environment.
Dogs Give You Energy and a Positive Vibe
Just something as simple as watching videos of dogs online was found to boost viewers’ energy and positive emotions while simultaneously decreasing their negative feelings. But we can do better than that. Take a mental wellness break from your computer, television and smart phone and spend some focused time with your actual pet(s). Soak up any energy and positive vibes from them, and then go share it with others.
Choosing a Dog
There are some important considerations you should keep in mind when looking for a dog. Always remember that different breeds of dogs have complex needs and different personalities. Your experience with a Chihuahua, for example, will be wildly different from your experience with a Great Dane. Additionally, some dog breeds require more exercise, training, a bigger living space, and cleaning. Some dogs aren’t suited for small children, and some dogs are more predisposed to chronic illness.
Points to Consider Before Adopting a Dog
Before adopting a new dog, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Are my needs and the needs of this breed compatible?
- Do I have the resources/means to fulfill this dog’s needs?
- How much time will I have to spend training or socializing with this dog?
- Is this dog’s temperament compatible with my own?
- Do I have the space this dog needs?
Answering these questions can help you find different breed(s) that will be most compatible with your lifestyle, and eventually help contribute to your overall well-being and mental health. When rescuing a dog, remember that past trauma can influence and in some cases totally change a dog’s personality. Be sure to communicate clearly with the shelter or breeder about your needs so that both you and your new furry friend can be as happy as possible.
Dogs are not just pets, they are family. The emotional bond between a dog and their pet parent can be a profound one. Dogs provide unconditional love and support, and in turn, we provide them security and love. The relationship between humans and dogs spans centuries. Dogs are known as “man’s best friend” for a reason. Building a bond with a dog is incredibly special and has mutual benefits. While there are many reasons to raise a pup, one especially good reason is the benefit a companion animal has on your mental health.