Dogs are known as “man’s best friend” for more than one reason. It’s not only our long history of working together and co-habitating which has led to an unbreakable bond, dogs are actually able to improve our moods and make us happier people over all. From their loyal sensibility, to the joy we feel when being in their presence, their role in helping with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression could be a lot more serious than previously considered. We all know that dogs can put a smile on the face of just about anyone – but does it go deeper than that?
As far as pet ownership goes in general, the love, fun and affection that we receive from animals is well known, understood and documented. However, the relationships we form with these wonderful little members of our families can be pretty powerful in combating mental health problems like stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness and can actually encourage playfulness, empathy and exercise. In short, dog ownership is linked to a decrease in depression or depressive mood cycles and an increase in positivity, happiness and contentedness.
Dogs are able to understand many words we use (you can check out our article on how to teach your dogs new words here) and can also read the tone of our voice, body language and gestures. Anyone who’s been close with a dog will know that they will look into your eyes to gain an understanding of your feelings and emotions at any given time, as a way to figure out what you’re thinking. Through this connection we form with them, we’re able to experience many positive emotions and experiences that other facets of life aren’t necessarily offering.
The first thing that our dogs offer us is uncomplicated love. The worries and stresses associated with most human interactions and relationships are not present. We can love and be loved unconditionally simply for who we are, and we can always depend on them to be there. Dog ownership also helps us take responsibility for something. Many of the stresses and woes of modern life stem from the feeling of a loss of control, a dog however gives us something/someone to care for and take responsibility for. This small but positive focus actually helps us to stay on track and feel connected to who we are and what we’re doing.
The benefits of exercise, movement and activity in general and their link to mental health is continually gaining traction, and owning a dog of course encourages and even demands physical activity. On our own we might spend mornings or evenings sitting stagnant and watching television, but with a dog we’re up, out of the house getting fresh air and moving our bodies all while enjoying the company of our inquisitive and nature-loving canine companions. Seeing the way they love and interact with the world can also help us to reconnect with our surroundings.
This outdoor activity can also lean towards social interaction, as many dog owners will chat with one another at the park – even if it is just about how much they love their dogs. It’s a win-win situation.
Coinciding with the benefits of exercise are the benefits of routine, which dog ownership also encourages. Providing food and walking gives you specific tasks to complete at specific times, which is good for mental health.
A leading cause in loneliness, sadness and even depression is the lack of touch, yet another thing our dogs are able to help us with. Simply brushing your dog or sitting with them and patting them can help people suffering from depression to feel more connected and ultimately happier.
With all these factors in mind, we can essentially break down the way that dogs help with depression or depressive thinking into three concepts. They help us to find joy and meaning, they make us feel more connected with the world and ourselves and they boost our physical movement which in turn makes us fitter and happier. The playfulness, laughter, movement, exercise, routine and love that come with the privilege of owning a dog do wonders for our mental and physical health.
Mental health is obviously a complicated and diverse issue, and while dogs aren’t necessarily a cure, we believe that they can play a big role in treating many problems.
What do you think of dogs’ potential to help in treating depression? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Tiahn Wetzler is a journalist, writer, editor and animal lover. Follow her on Instagram @tiahnwetzler