Allison Fiete, MHC
Therapy dogs have become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. More and more studies are being done that show some of the benefits of spending time with animals, including ways in which they can decrease the symptoms of some mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. So why exactly does spending time with a pup make us feel so much better? Here are just a few of the contributing factors:
Dogs typically require a certain amount of activity. Many dog-owners take their pets on regular walks, which is a great way to guarantee consistent exercise within a daily routine. Once dogs get into the habit of going for a walk every day at a certain time, they become pretty good at reminding their owners, which provides an extra little prompt to go out and get that exercise. Even beyond regular walking, dogs often like a certain amount of play time. Playing catch or tug-of-war can be a great, fun way to burn off a little more energy throughout the day.
Snuggling with a dog can increase feelings of relaxation and contentment. Many people find that coming home from a long, stressful day at work can be made easier by spending some time with pets, particularly dogs. Petting a pup actually releases positive chemicals in the body that reduce stress and increase relaxation. According to a study conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia, “petting a dog for just 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, and lowers the stress hormone cortisol.”
Dogs also make great buddies. Friendships of any kind have many positive benefits, which can help improve overall mental health. Dogs tend to exhibit more unconditional affection than many other animals do, which helps increase the feelings of loyalty and companionship that can boost a person’s mood and life satisfaction.
It has been found that people who spend more time with dogs tend to have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Additionally, spending time with dogs can decrease allergies and improve the immune system. When tending to mental health, it is extremely important to also tend to physical health. The stronger our bodies are, the more easily we can take the necessary steps to heal ourselves when struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Owning a dog can also increase sociability in a person’s life. For someone who may be socially anxious, a dog can help increase confidence and feelings of emotional support. But even for those who are not as socially hesitant, taking a dog for a walk or to a park to play can be a great opportunity to meet new people and socialize. Meeting a fellow dog-owner also makes for an easy conversation starter, as people tend to love talking about their loyal companions.
For avid dog lovers, the list is a lot longer. And of course, many simply find joy in having a dog for reasons they can’t even articulate. Whatever the reason, the fact is, and the data shows, that the companionship of a pup can increase happiness and overall quality of life. So, if you are feeling stressed or even a little lonely, it might be worth looking into finding a furry companion of your own.