Crufts is underway and The Project team is full of dog lovers, so we seize upon any excuse to talk about dogs and the mental health benefits they bring! Here are 7 of the top advantages provided by our canine chums:
1. Spending time with a dog can reduce stress, depression and anxiety.
Stroking and playing with dogs has a hormonal effect, releasing endorphins and making you feel happier and more relaxed. The instant effect is good, but the accumulative effect is even better. Regularly spending time with dogs (whether your own or not) can help you manage mental health problems.
2. Being responsible for a dog gives your life meaning and purpose.
Dogs depend on humans to provide food, shelter and medical care. As a dog owner, it’s your job to provide those things – whether alone or with the support of family and friends. During bad episodes, this fact can provide great value and reassurance. Helping out a friend, family member or neighbour with their dog can also have similar benefits.
3. Dogs love you unconditionally and constantly express their love.
You may doubt that your family and friends really love you in your darkest moments, but it’s hard to deny your dog loves you when he/she is so happy to see you every time you get home. Dogs are often more affectionate than people and other animals, licking and asking for cuddles all the time, which helps you feel valued and wanted!
4. Dogs encourage you to do things which help foster good mental health.
Walking is the obvious advantage – exercise releases endorphins, which helps regulate your mood, and being outside exposes you to sunlight, which also has a mood-enhancing effect. As dogs require regular walks, the benefits accumulate and can contribute to creating a routine, which also has positive effects on mental health.
5. Interacting with dogs distracts you and promotes mindfulness.
Playing with dogs is a great distraction from negative thoughts and emotions, but it also encourages you to focus on the here and now. It helps you appreciate the mere act of playing, to enjoy the pleasure the dog takes in the activity. It’s also hard not to join in when a dog is shoving a toy in your face, wanting you to play!
6. Dogs listen.
Dogs don’t judge or offer unsolicited and misinformed advice. They won’t get upset or uncomfortable if you talk about subjects many people find difficult, like self-harm and suicide. You can chat to them about anything, expressing how you feel and clearing your mind – which helps you feel better.
7. Dogs reduce loneliness and isolation.
Dogs are a valuable source of company, especially when you feel unable to face other people. However, they are sociable creatures and attract people’s attention, so people tend to stop and talk more when you are out. You can also take things to the next level and use your dog as a way to socialise more, joining walking groups or agility classes.
How does your dog help you manage your mental health? Let us know!