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Mental Health Benefits Of Dog Ownership

June 3, 2024

mental health benefits of dog ownership

If you have the space for one, having a dog is one of the best things you can improve your mental and emotional health—without medication! The strong, loving, and loyal bonds formed between dogs and their human companions are scientifically proven to benefit your well-being.

6 Ways A Dog Can Provide Physical, Emotional, And Mental Health Benefits

Fresh from the press from the Mental Health Foundation, we want to share six ways that having a dog can benefit mental health, along with some physical and emotional benefits.

You get more exercise

Exercise has long been associated with improved mental health because it helps the body release toxic stress hormones while boosting feel-good endorphins. Regular exercise is also essential for managing a healthy weight, a healthy heart, and balancing blood sugar levels.

Canines are no different. A dog needs exercise on a daily basis, so your commitment to their well-being automatically benefits your own.

A sense of security and safety (reducing anxiety)

Nearly 30% of Americans live alone, and this can make them feel vulnerable. Having a dog provides a sense of security. No, you don’t have to have a known guard dog breed. Having a dog on the premises that gives you an alert is enough to help those living alone feel more secure. 

Plus, prospective intruders are less likely to pursue the crime when they hear the sound of your dog growling or barking to alert you and others that something is amiss.  Research shows that homes with dogs are less likely to be burgled. This sense of safety can be very soothing, reducing anxiety around living alone or feeling at risk.

Social interaction and companionship

Feelings of social isolation increase a person’s risk of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. But there’s no need to ever be alone if you don’t want to be. Dogs make wonderful companions. While they may not speak using words, they are remarkably expressive using canine vocalizations and body language—and surprisingly adept at reading yours. Owning a dog increases your social interaction and alleviates feelings of loneliness.

Plus, since you have to get out there and walk your dog daily (or take them to a dog park), you’re far more likely to interact socially with others because people and children gravitate towards them.

One of the biggest mental health benefits, lots of smiles and laughter

It sounds so simple, yet many of us can make it through a day without any smiles or laughs. Smiling and laughing increase your levels of oxytocin and other “feel-good” hormones. They also boost a person’s sense of belonging, confidence, and joy. 

We guarantee that your close bond with a dog will bring lots of joy and laughter into your life. You can do your part in that equation by playing with them every day using toys, games, chase, fetch, or a local agility course—all of which promote having fun, smiling, laughing, and getting that aforementioned exercise.

Boosted confidence

People who own dogs report having higher confidence levels than those who don’t. For one thing, your dog doesn’t judge you, make cutting remarks, or diminish you in any way. It’s more like the opposite. Dogs are such unconditionally loving and forever forgiving creatures. This is part of their magic. While we always encourage using positive reinforcement and loving feedback to foster stronger, healthier bonds - your dog will love you and forgive you no matter what. 

Also, people who typically consider themselves introverted or shy find that their dog helps to bring them out of their shells because of the way dogs naturally draw other people into conversation. As you’ll learn, dog park friends are friends for life! Plus, your dog depends on you and needs you to thrive, and who doesn’t feel better about themselves when they know they are needed and loved?

NOTE FOR PARENTS: If you have a child who feels lonely, depressed, anxious, bullied, or lacks self-esteem, the right dog can make all the difference. No matter what happens during their day, knowing their best friend is waiting eagerly at home provides a sense of security and reassurance that can last a lifetime.

Adding structure to your daily life

If you live alone or are retired, it’s easy to float through your home time without much direction or structure - and this can take its toll on mental and emotional health. Because your dog depends on a routine - feeding, walking, getting out to go to the bathroom, playtime, etc. - having a dog adds structure to your life automatically. 

Consider Adopting Your New Best Friend From A Local Shelter

As long as you’re working to benefit your mental health with a dog, why not do the same for a dog by rescuing one from a local shelter? We can speak highly enough about the shelter dogs we work with on a daily basis. Shelter life is not good for dogs. They become depressed, anxious, and scared. 

We often see bumper stickers or T-shirt with the saying, I didn’t rescue my dog; my dog rescued me. That’s exactly how it feels for many people who adopt a dog or other animal from a shelter. Unless you plan to join the show dog circuit or have a specific need for a purebred working dog, forgo the urge to select a purebred dog because of aesthetics or a current breed trend. Adopt a shelter dog instead. It’s a win-win, and the odds are you’ll end up with a dog that feels like it was meant just for you!

ACT Helps People Select The Right Dog For Their Needs

Every dog is different and brings their own mix of energy, personality, and needs to the mix. Choosing the right dog for your needs and goals is the best way to ensure you and your canine companion benefit mutually from the partnership. 

The professional trainers at Alternative Canine Training are always happy to help individuals or families find the right dogs for their needs and goals. We can also help you integrate the dog into your home with the training basics or enroll you in one of our group classes so you all get off on the right foot (and paw!). Contact us when you’re ready to learn how much better - and healthier - life is with a dog at your side.

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