There’s no doubt that we benefit in a myriad of ways from our best canine friends – from the comfort of a snuggly lap dog, to the physical labour of a cattle dog, and the invaluable support of an assistance dog. They can have a positive impact on mental health in various ways too, and their companionship has been associated with several mental health benefits. Here are some ways in which dogs can contribute to our mental well-being:
Companionship and Emotional Support:
Dogs are known for their loyalty and unconditional love. The companionship they provide can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, offering emotional support. The gentle nudge of a wet nose can brighten the darkest times.
Interacting with dogs has been shown to lower cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. Petting or playing with a dog can trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of bonding and reduces stress.
Owning a dog encourages physical activity through walking, playing, and exercising. Regular exercise is linked to improved mood and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Routine and Structure:
Dogs thrive on routine, and their owners often benefit from the structure that comes with regular feeding, walking, and playtime. Establishing a routine can provide a sense of stability and purpose.
Walking a dog or visiting dog parks can facilitate social interactions with other dog owners. Increased socialisation can help combat feelings of loneliness and build a sense of community.
Mindfulness and Presence:
Spending time with a dog encourages mindfulness and being present in the moment. Dogs live in the present, and interacting with them can help shift focus away from worries about the past or future.
Sense of Responsibility:
Caring for a dog requires a commitment to their well-being, including feeding, grooming, and veterinary care. This sense of responsibility can provide a purpose and structure to one’s life.
The act of petting a dog or simply being in their presence can trigger the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, contributing to an improved mood.
Dogs are increasingly used in therapy settings, such as animal-assisted therapy (AAT). Interacting with therapy dogs has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms in various populations. They are used to help children to develop literacy skills, and explore communication in a safe and non-judgemental way.
It’s important to note that while dogs can have positive effects on our mental health, they are not a substitute for professional health treatment when needed. Individuals with concerns should seek guidance from healthcare professionals. Additionally, owning a dog requires a commitment of time, resources, and effort, so it’s crucial to consider one’s ability to provide proper care before getting a pet.
And if you do have a dog, enjoy every moment with them – remember they may not be with us for our whole life, but they are with us for their whole life!