How a Dog Can Improve your Mental Health?

Karah and Lady

Humans have been domesticating and living with dogs for thousands of years. Archaeologists even have found dog remains buried with human remains in ancient burial sites all around the world. It is hard to deny that people and dogs always have had a special connection. Today, there is a great deal of evidence to support this bond. Dogs aid humans in so many ways from sniffing out drugs, finding smuggled produce in suitcases, and identifying cancer in patients. Dogs work in prisons, nursing homes, airports, hospitals, and schools. Without a doubt, a dog’s most special talent is being man’s best friend; the way dogs offer unconditional and pure love to their humans is something special. This love calms us, soothes us, and uplifts our mood. I have a special love for dogs, and a bias toward beagles. In my opinion, there is nothing better for your emotional well-being than the love of a dog.

 As a therapist, I frequently recommend the idea of adopting a dog to clients struggling with anxiety or depression. Let’s get into the why…. a dog makes you get out and walk everyday no matter the weather forecast and will keep you active. A doghelps you to meet people in your community; everyone talks to me when Lady and I go for a stroll! A dog gives you purpose, something to love and take care of. Insecure in social situations? Many stores, parks, and employers are now allowing you to bring your dog so you can have a friend in these places. Feeling lonely? A dog will always want to hang out with you. Here is the big one: a dog will be loyal to you and love you unconditionally, and this feels good.

Plus, there is just something about seeing the excitement and joy on your dog’s face as you walk in the door day after day that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. The relationship you have with your dog is the perfect example of love. Your dog always forgives you, never judges you, won’t be mean to you, accepts you just how you are, will never abandon you, and basically thinks you are the greatest person ever. All these things help you to feel awesome. There is a growing body of scientific research that supports that dogs are a highly effective treatment option for mental health.

Numerous studies show that playing or cuddling with a dog boosts levels of oxytocin in both you and your dog. Why is this good for mental health? Oxytocin can reduce stress levels, make us feel bonded and loved, and help us to socialize. Oxytocin is a chemical that makes us feel intimacy, deep connection, and attachment. Studies also show that playing with dogs helps to lower level of cortisol that produces the fight or flight response, can make us feel anxious, and is linked to many physical health problems. If you are depressed or anxious, a boost in oxytocin from snuggling with a pup could help you feel better and a decrease in cortisol levels could make you feel more at peace and less anxious.

Spending time with dogs can make us feel calmer. Multiple studies have been conducted regarding the ways that dogs can help decrease anxiety and even some of those physical symptoms of anxiety; research indicated that in cardiac units and dentist offices, patients reporting anxiety stated a significant reduction in symptoms and lower blood pressure after visits with therapy dogs. Emergency departments where therapy dogs visited prescribed less pain medication and patients reported a decrease in anxiety compared to control groups.

Dogs also help to support depressed mood.  In long term care facilities such as nursing homes, psychiatric units, and other residential programs, residents who interacted with therapy dogs reported feeling happier, smiled more, and reported an improvement in mood with lower levels of depression compared to residents who did not interact with therapy dogs. Residents who interacted with dogs were also more active and inclined to help others. Dogs are incredibly good for our mental health and even can prevent disorders. Having a pet dog in childhood has even been associated with lower rates of schizophrenia in adulthood.

In trauma research, dogs have shown a benefit to individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder around mood and anxiety. The military, the Veterans’ Association, and other organizations that treat victims of trauma have seen successful outcomes and a reduction of symptoms after implementing dogs into treatment plans.

It seems like science is starting to show what people have known for thousands of years. Our furry friends are good for us and make our lives happier and better. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or mental health (and have the time and money to dedicate), why not consider getting a dog? Man’s best friend can also be your mental health intervention. From personal experience, I can tell you that my best friend and beagle mix, Lady, has brought so much joy to my life and has helped me to maintain a stable emotional well-being. Lady makes my happy moments more enjoyable and she provides me with comfort and love during tough times. I tend to agree with the research, dogs are great for our mental health!

One last recommendation from therapist Karah- Adopt or rescue a dog! Consider an older dog too. Mutts are great additions to your home! They will love you for saving them and you will feel that love back!

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