Service, emotional support, and therapy dogs are on the rise for providing support to individuals who suffer from some form of emotional, physical, or mental health condition however any average dog owner can reap similar benefits. Whether we are experiencing stress, problems in our relationships, medical issues, or are just trying to take care of ourselves, owning a dog can help soothe our minds, relax our bodies, and promote a sense of companionship. Here are some specific mind, body, spirit benefits that owning a dog can provide:
Physical activity: Since most dogs require some form of exercise, owners are more likely to get outside and move. Being outside and in the sun promotes absorption of vitamin D, which helps improve our mood as well as fight physical and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Exercise also produces endorphins, which are the “feel good” chemicals in our brains that helps to elevate our mood and mental states. And of course, there are endless benefits of exercise on our physical health including healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and circulation. Because our physical and mental states are connected, if we feel good physically, we are more likely to feel good mentally.
Stress reduction: Dogs are not the only ones benefitting from being pet and cuddled by their human owners. Research has shown that petting a dog in a consistent and rhythmic manner promotes production of the relaxing hormone oxytocin in both humans and dogs. This effect results in a sense of comfort and helps to decrease stress, anxiety, as well as high blood pressure and a high heart rate.
Healthy distraction: Engaging with a dog and focusing on the interaction can offer a break from the worries and stressors of the day. This type of distraction promotes our attention to stay in the present moment, which can boost mood and decrease negative thoughts and feelings.
Companionship: Owning a dog lessens feelings of loneliness as well as prevents isolation since they get us out and about and can promote social interaction with other dog lovers. Most dogs seek out contact and affection from their owners as well as provide a sense of unconditional love. Dog owners often find themselves venting and talking to their dogs since the chance of receiving negative feedback is small. Sometimes just the physical presence of a dog can provide comfort, feelings of loyalty, and a sense of security.
Sense of Purpose: Owning a dog comes with responsibility and the ability to take care of something besides ourselves. When we are feeling depressed or are having negative thoughts about some area of our life, taking care of a dog can help us get out of our heads by focusing on the dog’s needs, which can be very rewarding.
Owning a pet is not for everyone, so if you are considering bringing a furry friend home make sure you are in the right place and have enough time and space for them to prevent them from being more of a stress than a stress reliever. If you are a current dog owner, consider how you can increase your awareness of these benefits in your daily interactions.