When I was little, I had a best friend, his name was Sam, and he was a West Highland White Terrier. I only saw him in school holidays as my relatives lived on the Isle of Wight, but he meant the world to me and I had many happy visits, chatting to him, helping to walk and feed him, play with him and just sit with him and feel calm. I was a very shy child and at this age, my doggy friend Sam gave me confidence and helped me overcome worries and fears. He loved me and I loved him, I felt secure.
Now, roll forward many (many!) years and I still hold the relationship with my dog (s) as one of the most important aspects that contribute to keeping me less anxious and boosting my mental health in a good way. I often look back and feel in awe of the amazing benefits that my dogs have given me over the years. They are remarkable beings, and I am sure that all of you who are dog guardians/parents will agree that there is nothing like having the love and unconditional support of a treasured dog. The pandemic over the past 18 months has put a strain on everyone’s mental health and I would like to say thankyou to all of the dogs that have helped us to cope and manage our every day lives. Let’s look at some of the amazing ways that they have helped us:
- Providing Companionship- Sharing your life with your dog gives you an opportunity to provide for their needs, share special time, stroke your dog gently, gain a feeling of worth and that you are needed.
- Structure to your day- lets face it, if you have a dog, you have to get up and take them out, feed them, interact with them, play with them and train them and it gives you a great sense of purpose to your day. It also provides you with a sense of wellbeing and achievement.
- Exercise- we know that exercise is good for us so taking your dog out for its regular walks and run gets our hearts pumping and the good endorphins running through our bodies. Being outside with our dogs in the fresh air, combined with a walk in a wood is great for calming us and clearing our heads.
- Dogs don’t judge- Isn’t amazing that our dogs love us unconditionally? Even if we are having a bad day, the look of love a dog can give us can lift us up. They really don’t care if you are in your scruffiest outfit and your hair is looking a mess.
- Providing comfort if you are anxious/depressed/feeling low/stressed- just having my dog around is such a comfort if I am having a particularly anxious day. They don’t really have to do anything, but their presence in my life is so key.
- Socialising/meeting people- walking our dog enables us to say hi to a fellow dog walker, or engage in a conversation, which helps us to feel more connected to others and less lonely.
There have been numerous studies on the benefits of owning dogs, they help lower blood pressure, they aid with recovery from illness. The simple process of stroking a dog or touching them helps to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) and release more oxytocin which can be calming and relax us. Did you know that if you look lovingly into your dogs eyes, the level of oxytocin is not just raised in you, but also your dog? Thus, intensifying that strong bond between you.
We all know the benefits of therapy dogs that do such amazing work, but just for now let’s celebrate the massive benefits our companion dogs bring us, boosting our mental health and helping us to live fully in the moment.