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Leash on Life: How Dogs Contribute to Our Mental Health

The human-dog bond is undeniable. Our pets are part of our family. And 8 out of 10 dog owners say their pet positively impacts their mental health. 

 

In 2023, the President of the American Psychiatric Association, Rebecca Brendel, said,

“The animals we bring into our lives and our families play many roles, from non-judgmental companions that we love to key partners in reducing our stress and anxiety. Americans clearly recognize that our relationships with our pets can have noticeable benefits for our overall mental health.”

 

There are no bones about it—dogs are good for your well-being. We’ll explore how dogs positively impact us and give you some advice for choosing the best dog to match your busy or not-so-busy lifestyle.

The Science Behind Dogs and Mental Health

The history of the human-animal bond goes all the way back to ancient times. As hunter-gatherers, we formed a partnership with wild dogs. At first, they offered us security, warding off possible predators. Over time, they stuck around humans, and eventually, dogs became our now-domesticated best friends.

 

However, it wasn’t until 1962 that psychologists started using dogs for therapeutic benefits. Child psychologist Boris Levinson was the first in his field to use dogs as “therapists” in clinical therapeutic settings. 

 

Being around dogs can cause our bodies to release hormones like oxytocin and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Studies show that petting a dog for just a few minutes can help lower anxiety levels in humans.

How Dogs Provide Emotional Support

Dogs offer emotional support and can help reduce stress for their owners, whether or not their owners are dealing with mental health challenges.

 

Owning a dog can help relieve symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. According to the National Center for PTSD:

 

  • They are great companions and help us feel less alone
  • Dogs evoke feelings of affection
  • Our pups help us feel playful, which reduces stress
  • They give us a reason to get out and do things
  • Dogs are trainable and become attached to their owners

Dogs love us unconditionally

Our dogs are there for us no matter what, and without judgment. Dogs’ unconditional love and companionship can be incredibly comforting during challenging times, which is why many dog owners consider their pets a part of their families. 

Physical Health Benefits of Owning a Dog

With dog ownership, you can go for walks, play fetch, and do other activities to keep yourself active and improve your overall health. 

 

Not only can owning a dog help increase physical activity levels, but it can also reduce your blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease. Plus, we know that physical exercise is also good for your mental health.

Social Connection Through Dog Ownership

Owning a dog can facilitate social connections and reduce feelings of loneliness in their owners. Your furry friend is there for you; they usually love being around other people and dogs, too. 

 

Dog owners are five times more likely to establish new social connections than owners of other types of pets. If only there were a place to take your fish to meet other fishy friends, right? 

 

Going for a walk with your dog or taking them to the dog park can lead to spontaneous conversations with strangers and possibly new friendships with other dog lovers.

Building Responsibility and Routine with Dogs

Taking care of a dog requires a considerable time commitment. It also means you must spend money and effort to care for your furry friend. This responsibility can positively influence your daily routines and create a sense of accountability. 

 

Consider allocating specific times daily for dog care tasks and establish a balanced feeding, grooming, and exercise routine. 

 

Creating a structured schedule ensures that your dog is well cared for and helps you develop a sense of discipline and organization. If other people are in your home, involve them in the doggy’s routine to distribute responsibilities and foster a sense of teamwork. 

 

Making your dog’s needs a priority strengthens the bond between you and your animal companion while engaging your sense of responsibility and structure in life. 

The Therapeutic Roles of Dogs

Canines can play a significant role in professional settings, like therapy dogs in hospitals, schools, and treatment centers.

 

Some dogs are specially trained to provide support and comfort to the individuals they serve. Each dog is specially trained to respond to their owner’s specific needs and offer other benefits that contribute to their owner’s well-being.

 

Therapy dogs help comfort people in different settings and are skilled at responding to their human emotions. These animals differ from service or emotional support animals, requiring extensive training before being recognized as certified professional therapy dogs.

 

Service dogs can perform various tasks, including detecting seizures or panic attacks, retrieving objects, reminding their owner to take medications, and helping them get around in public.

 

Animal-assisted therapy, facilitated by specially trained dogs, has been proven to have significant positive effects on mental health. It boosts mood, reduces stress, and improves overall mental well-being.

How to Find the Perfect Dog for You

Some want-to-be dog owners are a little more picky than others. And that’s okay! There’s a pup for everyone. Animal shelters are overflowing with dogs just waiting for their fur-ever homes. 

 

Before you head to your local shelter or try finding a new pet online, be sure to do your research. Having a dog is a big responsibility, so it’s wise to ask yourself some questions first. You wouldn’t want to lose your pup because you couldn’t care for them, right?

 

Who lives in your home? 

Consider who will be around your dog. How will having a new dog in the house affect those who live there? Do you have small children, older adults, or other pets living with you?

 

Be sure to talk with the other people you live with before bringing a new dog into the home. If you already have a dog, cat, or other small free-roaming animal, consider a special introduction time where the animals can get to know each other, and it’s not a shock to the animals who already live in your house. Remember, right now, that space is their territory. 

 

What is your activity level like? 

Most dogs require lots of your time and energy. That means taking them for regular walks and spending quality time with them while you’re home. If you’re always on the go—how will a new dog fit into your fast-paced lifestyle? 

 

Canine companions thrive on exercise, so if you’re an active person who regularly goes for walks or runs, then a breed with tons of energy might be right for you. If you’re the opposite of active, you may want to consider an older dog or one that requires less regular exercise.

 

If you’re an avid traveler, do you plan to board the dog or take them along? Owning a dog is a big financial commitment; the money spent on finding others to care for them while you’re away can add up quickly.

 

What’s your financial situation?

Boarding fees, doggy daycare, routine exams and shots, food, and other necessary items make owning a dog a big financial responsibility you should take very seriously. 

 

If you’re still on the fence about getting your own pup, you don’t need to own a dog to reap the mental health benefits. Consider volunteering at an animal shelter or a pet store in your area. A few doggy snuggles each week may give your mood the boost you want. 

Dog-Friendly Treatment

Some addiction treatment facilities allow individuals to bring their pets, and others have in-house therapy dogs who provide emotional support and comfort to individuals in the program. 

 

Having your dog with you during treatment can make it feel less lonely. Whether you’re in treatment or not, your dog is there for you. And they’ll be by your side as you work on getting better.

 

Ways your dog can support you in treatment:

  • Socializing
  • Being “there” for you
  • Non-judgemental support
  • No unsolicited advice
  • Help you build healthy relationships

 

At Recovery Unplugged, we support pet-friendly rehab. At our facilities, you’re responsible for taking care of your pet, and if they don’t play well with others, unfortunately, they’ll have to wait for you at home.

If you want to explore our pet-friendly rehab programs, call our admissions team at 1 (855) 954-1194 to find out what animals are allowed at Recovery Unplugged treatment centers.

 

The bond between humans and dogs boosts your mental health. Consider the perks of bringing a dog into your life, or try to spend time with dogs regularly to lift your spirits.

 

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There are a million different opinions online, but when it comes to your life, health and wellness only peer reviewed reputable data matters. At Recovery Unplugged, all information published on our website has been rigorously medically reviewed by a doctorate level medical professional, and cross checked to ensure medical accuracy. Your health is our number one priority, which is why the editorial and medical review process we have established at Epiphany Wellness helps our end users trust that the information they read on our site is backed up my peer reviewed science.


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