I wouldn’t be the only one in our community that has struggled with mental health over the years. For me, social anxiety and isolation have been burdens. We didn’t get a dog until 2010 and I could immediately feel the differences once I joined this massive dog community.
Some interesting facts – Australia continues to have one of the highest rate of pet ownership in the world with dogs being the most popular pet. According to Vet Voice – two in five households in Australia own a dog. For this incredible number of dog households there are many amazing benefits.
Service dogs are becoming more and more popular for people with mental heath conditions as opposed to previously assisting with physical conditions only. They are amazing for people with autism, anxiety, PTSD and depression and are often observed regularly helping their humans to navigate what can be a very confusing world.
In our group we hear time and time again that dogs have, ‘changed lives’. It might sound like a throwaway phrase but from my own experiences, and many of our members experiences, this is without a doubt, true.
How can dogs help with depression (or other mental health conditions)?
DOGS & EXERCISE
When you get a dog, it forces you out into the community. You have to walk it or pay the consequences (ripped up furniture and barking to name a few). I have found personally that no matter how bad I feel, I always feel better after walking the dog. In most areas unless rural, you will see people and other dogs while you walk. This often promotes conversation while exercising. Even just the act of saying, ‘hello’ to another person can be enough to lift your mood. We all know that exercising increases endorphins and lowers blood pressure.
SELF ESTEEM/SELF WORTH
You may occasionally or regularly experience very low self esteem/self worth. Suddenly you have a living creature that REALLY needs you. He/she doesn’t care if you have lots of money, bad or strange habits, if you cry often, if you have a stutter, if you have ticks. They are oblivious to what mental health condition you may be diagnosed with. They only care about you and that they have their basic needs met. As you start to develop a bond with your pet, it becomes obvious how much they are in awe of you. They rely on you and without you they may not be here. That has to count for something. You are responsible for a completely dependent life.
We covered it a little above but dogs definitely promote conversation and friendship. If you follow a routine and walk your dog at the same time daily, you will soon start to make other doggy friends. Perhaps you head off to an off leash area in which your dog will make new friends and you will start conversing with the owners. It is important to work on your dogs socialisation though surprisingly enough, it improves your socialisation in ways you would never expect.
Who hasn’t laughed at a funny video about a pet online or on TV? Well, when you have your own dog, laughter, no matter how rotten you feel, seems to be a daily experience. Dogs are hilarious without even trying and smiling and laughing lifts your mood. Have you heard the saying, ‘Laughter is the best medicine?’ Get a dog and you will quickly learn this is true.
DOGGIE DATES NSW
Well, we couldn’t write an article about dogs and depression without mentioning our amazing group! When we started Doggie Dates NSW in 2015 we never expected the benefits we now observe on a DAILY basis. When we walk in groups, people chat and exchange information and stories. This fosters friendships and conversation easily because the focus is on the dog rather than the person. Even if you are not in the position to attend a group walk, you can meet people 1:1 or engage on the group. We do make a difference to all ages, all owners, all dogs. Join in the fun!
FINALLY…you may not be in the position to own a dog but that’s okay. Most dog owners are happy for you to pat their dogs and we all love showing off our dogs so give in a go – have a conversation with a pet owner!