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Last Updated on September 30, 2022 by Randy Withers, LCMHC
Dogs — man’s best friend.
They come in all shapes and sizes in over 195 different breeds.
At the end of the day, they are the ones who show up for you. If you are having a bad day, it only takes one lick on the face to make everything better.
Dogs will not get mad at you for petty things. They won’t argue with you or hurt your feelings.
These handsome boys (and girls) are there to celebrate all your good days and are rays of sunshine on your dark days.
If you’re feeling lonely, they fill up the void with their cuteness and loving spirit.
On top of being cute, the mental health benefits of dogs are clear. Owning a dog helps you better regulate your emotions, improves your social life, and gives you purpose.
In short, dogs are wonderful for your mental health. Heck, that’s why they make such good emotional support animals.
Here are five reasons why:
5 Mental Health Benefits of Dogs, According To Science
One: Dogs provide unconditional love
Unconditional love is non-judgmental, pure, and profound.
Amongst humans, unconditional love is rare. Human relationships are messy, chaotic, and complicated. People come and go, personalities clash, and feelings get hurt.
A dog’s relationship with humans is none of these things.
Dogs will love you no matter what. They’re unwavering in their loyalty to human beings.
Rain or shine, they will be there for you day-after-day.
They won’t judge you if you fail at something, they don’t care what you look like, and they will not judge you for being who you are.
This loyalty is true unconditional love.
Unconditional love is enormously beneficial to your mental health. It is a basic psychological need. We simply cannot thrive without it.
The stability that comes from unconditional love can significantly improve your life.
Benefits include increased self-esteem, a greater sense of purpose, and an optimistic disposition.
Experiencing this gives you the freedom to be yourself, and that is powerful.
Two: Dogs Force you to Be More Sociable
There are A LOT of dog lovers in the world. When you’re out-and-about walking your dog, you’re bound to find people who are going to want to pet your dog.
You may even find other dog owners out on a walk with their own dogs.
Dogs are social creatures, and it doesn’t take them very long to make friends.
They’re a natural ice breaker and a great conversation topic.
Their love and admiration for people and other pets will naturally rub off on you. You’ll find yourself talking with other dog owners and petting other people’s canines.
In fact, pet owners are 60% more likely than non-pet owners to meet new neighbors.
Meaningful social interactions are terrific for your mental health. Social interaction lightens your mood, lowers your risk of dementia, strengthens your sense of belonging, and eases loneliness.
Three: Dogs Help Reduce Depression and Anxiety
In the United States, more than 50 million people suffer from depression and anxiety.
While dogs aren’t a “cure-all” solution, the mental health benefits of dogs are undeniable.
Studies reveal that playing with a dog can release oxytocin and dopamine, which promotes positive emotions. Dog owners are also less likely to have elevated blood pressure or develop heart disease.
Research has also shown that dogs alleviate symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.
How do they do this?
According to a survey by HABRI, 87% of physicians found that owning pets improved their patients’ outlook and mood. When you’re with your dog, you’re with a caring and loyal friend, and you’ll always feel the love.
They also fulfill humans’ fundamental need for touch. According to University of South Australia researchers, 90% of respondents said touching their pets was soothing and comforting.
Petting a dog can stop threat and stress responses in our brains, lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and increase serotonin and dopamine.
Four: Dogs will help you increase your daily physical activity
Dogs need to be walked and require exercise. That means their owners need to go with them.
Are you walking them, or are they walking you?
It could be both.
Dog owners tend to have more daily physical activity than people who do not have a dog.
Some people go the extra mile (literally) and go hiking, biking, or jogging with their furry companion.
All this exercise is terrific for your mental and physical wellbeing.
Physical activity reduces your risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and premature death, which can all affect your mental health.
In the short-term, exercise produces endorphins and enkephalins, also known as feel-good hormones.
On top of that, exercising with your dog will redirect your focus and take your mind off other things. If something is bothering you or you’re not feeling great, it allows you to step back, calm down, and tackle things when you’re feeling more whole.
Five: Dogs Give you A Sense Of Purpose
The act of caring about others, also known as altruism, encourages positive physiological changes in individuals.
When you own a dog, you are responsible for the life of another being. You become accountable in a way you might not be if you were only taking care of yourself.
Responsibility promotes healthy mental wellbeing.
Having a dog creates structure in your day. Your dog is going to be hungry, and you’ll need to feed it. When it goes to the bathroom, you’re going to need to clean it up. Each day, you’ll need to go for walks so that your dog can exercise.
Taking care of your dog’s needs shows that you are capable of taking care of another life. You build skills from being responsible for your canine friend, which develops your self-confidence and shows you that you can be independent.
The altruism that you experience as a dog owner promotes healthy habits and improves overall mental health and wellbeing.
Bonus: Quotes That Prove The Mental Health Benefits of Dogs
The research is clear — the mental health benefits of dogs are undeniable. But I think we both understand that we don’t always need science to tell us what we already know to be true.
Dogs change people’s lives. Enjoy the following quotes that illustrate the mental health benefits of dogs all on their own. Can you relate to these gems?
“Happiness is a warm puppy.”– Charles M. Shulz
”Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot little puppies.”– Gene Hill
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”– Roger A. Caras
“You will never know loneliness when you have a dog, when you lose that dog it will be loneliness like you’ve never known.”– Michael P. Naughton
Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.”– Roger A. Caras
“The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.”– M.K. Clinton
“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling an emptiness we didn’t ever know we had.”– Thom Jones
“Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love, they depart to teach us about loss. A new dog never replaces an old dog. It merely expands the heart.”– Author Unknown
“I’m a lot less cranky when it’s just me and my dog.”– Bob Peterson
“When an 85 pound mammal licks your tears away, and then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.”– Kristan Higgins
“You know, a dog can snap you out of any kind of bad mood that you’re in faster than you can think of.”– Jill Abramson
“Dogs leave pawprints on our hearts”– Author Unknown
“Does not the gratitude of the dog put to shame any man who is ungrateful to his benefactors?”– Saint Basil
“There’s just something about dogs that makes you feel good. You come home, they’re thrilled to see you. They’re good for the ego.”– Janet Schnellman
“I’m a lot less cranky when it’s just me and my dog.”– Bob Peterson
Dogs And Mental Health : The “paw”-tom line
The mental health benefits of dogs are clear. In fact, I searched high and low for research that says dogs are bad for your mental health, and I couldn’t find a single entry.
Dogs are loyal. They give you purpose, reduce stress and anxiety, improve your social life, provide endless love, and enhance your physical wellbeing. They can even be trained and recognized as official therapy dogs.
If you get a dog, get ready for endless love.
If you already own one, take a knee, scratch their ears, and thank them for it. Chances are, they’ll let you.
What are other mental health benefits does your tod bring to the table? Leave your answer in the comments below!
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Pets can help their humans create friendships, find social support – Harvard Health Blog
- Oxytocin and Cortisol Levels in Dog Owners and Their Dogs Are Associated with Behavioral Patterns: An Exploratory Study
- Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study
- Paws for Thought: A Controlled Study Investigating the Benefits of Interacting with a House-Trained Dog on University Students Mood and Anxiety
- Shareable Infographic: Top 5 Mental Health Benefits Of Pets | HABRI
- Pets, touch, and COVID-19: health benefits from non-human touch through times of stress
- Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin
- Are Dog Owners Healthier People?
Wow, I never knew how having a dog could affect our mental health in such a positive way! A few days ago, my sister mentioned she’s interested in getting a dog for her son. My sister’s not sure about having a puppy or not, so I do think your article will help change her mind! Thanks for the information on how anxiety symptoms could be reduced with a pup’s help!