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4 ways dogs positively impact your mental wellbeing

A kneeling woman in yoga wear pets a fluffy dog

The companionship, love and support that dogs offer, have earned them the top spot on the pedestal as man's best friend. Caring for a canine friend provides a simple happiness that is hard to explain, much like the unspoken ways that they care for us in return.

Whether it's opening the door to a wagging tail, or receiving a paw-five, their unconditional love and support can positively impact your health and mental wellbeing and help create a more harmonious and healthier lifestyle.

Here are four ways that having dogs at home can improve your mental health and provide a sense of purpose.

Dogs encourage physical activity

Being a good dog owner means engaging in physical activities for the wellbeing of your dog. Dogs need exercise, too, just like humans.

Their cute, pleading stare to go and explore the great outdoors is hard to ignore, and shouldn’t be, especially when the exercise is good for your own wellbeing.

Being active for just 30 minutes a day, not only benefits your own physical health, but your mental health, too. Physical activity releases endorphins that can improve your mood and increase your happiness.

Exercise also increases the blood-flow to your brain, which can improve your memory, help you think more clearly and protect against brain disease.

Walking your dog (or at least trying not to front flip whilst they pull on the lead) encourages you to get outside into your local environment and connect with nature. Embracing the outdoors has big benefits for your mental health, immune system and sleeping patterns.

Spending time outdoors can improve your mood, reduce stress and boost your Vitamin D. Don't forget to slip, slop, slap! Even your beloved canine could benefit from a dollop of sunscreen!

A woman in a straw hand in a garden smells a yellow flower with her dog

Dogs increase social interaction

Owning a dog makes you accountable for daily outdoor adventures, but they are also incredible socialisers! Their sociability can encourage us to connect with and talk to other dog owners in our local community.

When your canine drags you by their lead to a fellow dog passing by, an opportunity for social interaction is instantly apparent. Sparking a conversation with a stranger has never been so easy, especially when the best conversation starter is at the end of the lead you hold.

Feeling connected to people plays an important role in your mental wellbeing. Humans are social creatures, who thrive on regular social interactions. The more positive interactions you engage in, the more your mood can be boosted, and your social network strengthened for the next time you need support. You can even branch out and join relevant animal clubs or go to pet-friendly events, parks, or beaches.

Time spent walking your dog could also be time spent practising the art of mindfulness. Focusing on the present is a great way take a break from the hustle and bustle of life. Taking deep breaths whilst focusing on the world around you and watching the thoughts come and go in your mind, can help calm and relieve the daily pressures in your life.

Mindfulness has a strong effect on our mental wellbeing and focusing on the present moment, can help ease worry about the past or the future. Even talking to your dog and focusing on their wellbeing can relieve stress. The best part is that dogs are fantastic listeners and will never interrupt you mid-rant!

Dogs provide companionship

Dogs are incredible companions and provide unwavering support regardless of your mood. The sound of paws pattering on the floor, is an instant reminder that you are not alone.

Returning home from a bad day can be lightened by knowing you have a furry friend patiently waiting for your return (or the treats you bring with you).

Their affection and acceptance can decrease feelings of loneliness or isolation and can fulfil the human need to touch and care for another being.

Feelings of isolation and loneliness are normal but can have long-lasting effects on your mental health. Feeling isolated can be brought on by:

  • Living alone or away from close family
  • Feeling worried or stressed
  • Being unemployed
  • Going through a break-up.

Feeling isolated or lonely for long periods of time can affect your sleep and energy levels, increase anxiety or depression, and bring on physical ailments such as headaches. The companionship that dogs provide is a great defence against loneliness and they will ultimately appreciate the company too!

A man hugs his dog while they watch the sunset from the tailgate of a vehicle

Queensland Children's Hospitals has been visited by Delta Society’s calm and soothing therapy dogs, who help patients heal by offering them a paw to hold.

Delta’s therapy dogs bring the joy of animal companionship to those who need it most and believe in the social, emotional and physiological benefits of a kinship between dogs and humans.

Research shows that patting or stroking a dog can reduce your blood pressure, lower your heart and breathing rate and reduce muscle tension and fatigue.

The calming influence dogs have can also help reduce feelings of stress, by encouraging moments of relaxation. Relaxation is important to your mental health and can reduce symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

The calming demeanour of Delta’s therapy dogs helps people to unwind and enjoy the experience of bonding with an animal. Building a relationship with a dog can lead to a more enriched life for both humans and dogs.

Check out this link to see the Delta Dogs in action.

Dogs provide stability, routine and a sense of purpose

Owning and looking after a dog can encourage us to look after ourselves better.

Healthy routines are great for your mental health. Having a routine that cares for your dog’s health too, can provide stability and a sense of purpose.

Dogs rely on you to look after them, to keep them healthy and strong. They need to be fed, groomed, taken on regular walks and of course shown a lot of love! This accountability can do wonders for your mental wellbeing.

Regardless of your mood, or even if you're feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, one adorable look from your dog can have you out of bed caring for their every need.

Taking care of another being and showing kindness towards their health, can even boost your own happiness!

A woman and cute fluffy dog do yoga's cobra pose

So, is it time to adopt a dog?

While it's true that dogs can help us live a healthier lifestyle and further positively impact our mental wellbeing, in return they require commitment, support, love and of course infinite care (which includes a few pesky medical expenses).

Before reaching out to adopt a dog, ask yourself a few of the important questions:

  • Can I take on the day-to-day responsibilities of owning a dog?
  • Can I afford to pay for food and any possible vet bills?
  • Can I care for a dog for its entire lifespan of 10-15 years?

If adopting a dog is not on the cards for you right now, but you still want the benefits of spending time with a bubbly canine, one of the suggestions below could be an alternative option:

  • Ask a neighbour or friend if they need help walking their dog or need someone to spend time with their beloved pooch whilst they are at work.
  • Foster a rescue dog in need of a temporary home. This is a great way to care for a dog without the long-term commitment.
  • Volunteer at your local dog shelter and spend time with dogs that would adore a little extra love. The RSPCA are always in need of volunteers.
  • Get involved with Delta Dogs who are also a volunteer-based organisation, in need of volunteers in various areas of expertise.

More information on the benefits of pet ownership

Last updated: 8 March 2021