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How Dogs and Humans Help Each Other’s Mental Health

A young couple sitting on a black leather couch playing with a pair of yellow labrador retriever puppies and smiling.
The relationship between humans and dogs spans centuries. Dogs are “man’s best friend” for a reason. Building a bond with a dog is incredibly special and has mutual benefits. While there are many reasons to raise a pup, one especially good reason is the benefit a companion animal has on your mental health. You may already know that having a pet can improve your mood, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and ease loneliness. But did you know that your dog’s mental health also benefits from your relationship? Getting and taking care of a dog can improve your overall quality of life, as well as your furry friend’s.

How Dogs Can Improve Our Mental Health

Maintaining good mental health habits is crucial to living a happy, healthy life. Poor mental health can cause physical health problems if left untreated. There are several ways you can care for your mental health every day—including getting a pet. Raising a dog is a huge responsibility, but it can also be a huge boon to your life. Simply by living with you, furry friends can help regulate your mood, reduce feelings associated with poor mental health, and even help reduce physical health symptoms associated with stress. The structure and routine that pet parenting provides can be a great comfort and inspire several healthy habits that can vastly improve your quality of life.

How Dogs Help with Anxiety

Physical contact with an animal has been proven to rapidly reduce symptoms of anxiety. Petting a dog can help slow your heart rate, which can alleviate panic attacks. Dogs are also incredibly intuitive to emotion; several members from the study referenced previously conducted by Psychology Today reported that their dog would offer them physical reassurance when they “sensed” their pet parent was in a bad place.

Because dogs are so effective for anxiety management, they have been used in the professional treatment of anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

How Dogs Help with Depression

Dogs also provide an effective coping mechanism for people with depression. One study found that pets helped reduce anxiety, and all participants in the study described their relationship with their dog as positive. Not only can raising a dog physically help change your brain chemistry, but it can also inspire healthy everyday habits that can reduce the severity of depression.

Dogs promote activity and exercise, which is another proven way to help alleviate depression. Something as simple as taking your dog outside for a potty break can have a positive effect on your mental health, as being in nature has been proven to help with symptoms of depression.

How Dogs Help with Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

Dogs aren’t just beneficial to your mental health; they’re great for your physical health as well. Living with a dog can help lower your blood pressure, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. Your dog is heart-healthy in a few ways. First, dog parents are more likely to take daily walks, which promote cardiovascular health. Second, petting a dog can reduce your stress levels. High amounts of stress are destructive to the heart and can increase inflammation, lower good cholesterol, and increase your heart rate, making your heart work harder longer. It’s been proven that heart attack survivors who own a dog live longer on average, due to the positive health benefits.  

How Humans Benefit Dogs

The human-dog relationship is not only beneficial to humans. Humans also contribute to the mental wellbeing of dogs. Dogs are social animals and therefore thrive in family dynamics. Other aspects of pet parenting, including the care and maintenance of a pup, help increase a dog’s happiness and mental wellbeing.

Establishing a Routine

Dogs tend to be creatures of habit. Routines decrease their stress, as they don’t have to worry about what is or isn’t going to happen throughout their day. Establishing a routine for meals, dog playtime, and walks is a great way to keep your furry friend happy and calm. Dogs in good spirits are also less likely to be destructive or have accidents in the home.

Exercise

Exercise is just as important to your dog’s health as it is to your health. Regular exercise has heart health benefits for dogs, as well as helping to maintain a healthy weight. This can prolong their lives and helps reduce the risk of disease. It also provides mental stimulation for dogs, which is an important part of keeping them happy. You can exercise your pet indoors or outdoors, depending on factors such as weather. Both types of exercise are beneficial and can be used to supplement each other depending on your dog's needs.

Securing Basic Needs

Every living creature has basic needs like food, shelter, and sometimes companionship. Humans provide these needs for dogs in a stable environment. This reduces their anxiety and helps them form a bond with you, their provider. Other basic needs humans provide dogs include:

  • Medical care
  • Hygiene and grooming
  • Safety
  • Emotional care
  • Physical and mental activity

Oftentimes, these needs can’t be fulfilled, or aren’t easily fulfilled in the wild. Therefore, dogs rely on humans to achieve them. By fulfilling these needs, you can prolong your dog’s life and improve their wellbeing.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Dogs can reduce their pet parents’ stress, and pet parents can do the same for dogs. Simply being around your dog can reduce their feelings of anxiety. Because dogs are social animals, simply being around others can help inspire feelings of calm and belonging. This can include spending time around other people, as well as other dogs.

Humans can also comfort dogs in times of stress. Common examples of this would be thunderstorms and firework displays. There are several practices you can follow to calm your dog, as well as supplements that you can give to mitigate tense or stressful situations. This would not be an option without human companionship.  

Finding the Right Dog to Benefit You Both

There are some considerations you should keep in mind when looking for a dog. It’s important to remember that different breeds of dogs have different needs and different personalities. Your experience with a Chihuahua, for example, will be wildly different from your experience with a Doberman. Additionally, some dogs require more exercise, training, living space, and cleaning. Some dogs aren’t suited for small children, and some dogs are more predisposed to chronic illness. Before getting a new dog, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are my needs and the needs of this breed compatible?
  • Do I have the resources/means to fulfill this dog’s needs?
  • How much time will I have to spend training or socializing with this dog?
  • Is this dog’s temperament compatible with my own?
  • Do I have the space this dog needs?

Answering these questions can help you find different breeds that will be most compatible with your lifestyle. When rescuing a dog, remember that past trauma can influence and in some cases totally change a dog’s personality. Be sure to communicate clearly with your adoption agency about your needs so that both you and your new furry friend can be as happy as possible.

Dogs are not just pets—they’re family. The emotional bond between a dog and their pet parent can be a profound one. Dogs provide unconditional love and support, and in turn, we provide them security and love.

Pets 101 - Family Matters | Four Paws

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