Could Man’s Best Friend Be Man’s Best Therapist?

We know that a dog is meant to be man’s best friend, but are they also man’s best therapist? With depression on the rise, Annabelle Lopez takes a look at the positive impact dogs can have on our mental health

If just stroking a dog is enough to bring a smile to your face – sometimes simply seeing one across the street is enough to set us off – then you already have a rudimentary idea of the therapeutic benefits dogs possess.

The truth is that, while measures such as medication have helped people in the past and still do, it doesn’t work for everyone. Exercise, another method largely believed to help with issues such as depression and anxiety, might also not be an option for people with physical disabilities or existing injuries.

Barring allergies, dogs appear to be a very consistent and reliable way of dealing with our mental health issues – which is on the rise (World Health Organization figures published in 2015 indicated that around 4% of the world’s population has depression).

But is there any evidence to suggest that dogs are actually beneficial for our mental health?

Dogs are good for your health:
the supporting evidence

One of our favourite books on the correlation of purpose and satisfaction is Happiness by Design, written by a Professor of Behavioural Science called Paul Dolan.

In this, he discusses how the best long-term pleasure is derived from a sense of purpose – be that something as major as motherhood, or looking after a dog and providing for them.

This correlation was also supported by two 2014 studies, one titled Sense of Purpose in Life and Escape from Self as the Predictors of Quality of Life in Clinical Samples (by Magdalena Błażek, Maria Kaźmierczak, and Tomasz Besta), and one titled A renewed sense of purpose: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Experience of Having a Child Following a Recent Stillbirth (by Louise Campbell-Jackson, Jessica Bezance and Antje Horsch).

When you feel like nothing is going right for you, being responsible for a dog’s happiness can make you feel like you’re doing something beneficial with your time

Both confirmed that motherhood and looking after a dog actually provide the same sense of purpose as each other. Reports of issues that may arise from parenthood (such as postpartum depression) are also far less common in looking after dogs.

When you feel down in the dumps and like nothing is going right for you, being able to dictate the life of a dog and be responsible for their happiness can make you feel like you’re doing something beneficial with your time.

The physical benefits
of dog ownership

Anyone that has owned a dog before will also agree that it involves a physical commitment on top of the financial and emotional ones – taking them on walks, playing with them etc.

Following a similar train of thought, anyone who has consistently worked out before will be aware that it can provide huge boosts to your mental health.

A thorough study by Frank Penedo and Jason Dahn, titled Exercise and Wellbeing: A Review of Mental and Physical Health Benefits Associated with Physical Activity confirms this.

When you’re suffering from depression, just getting up off the sofa can be hugely difficult, but owning a dog almost forces you to make those therapeutic steps outside the home – the exercise provided by long walks or park visits with the dog can help the walker as much as the dog.

Other physical changes from being around dogs have also been recorded. High blood pressure is a common indicator of stress, but a 1998 study titled Cardiovascular Effects of Human-Pet Dog Interactions (by Vormbrock JK and Grossberg JM) found that when humans interacted with a dog, blood pressure would drop notably.

Let’s not forget that high blood pressure (sometimes referred to as hypertension) can lead to coronary artery disease, heart failure, brain aneurysms, kidney scarring, dementia and strokes, you can see the value this has.

Owning a dog won’t completely eradicate high blood pressure instantly, but alongside a healthy lifestyle, it can make a notable difference.

This sentiment is also true for dogs and mental health in general. Sometimes therapy and self-assessment are just essential, and getting a dog shouldn’t be the first port of call when you or a friend find themselves in a difficult place.

However, when treated as the serious step it is and not fuelled by entirely selfish motives, it can be hard to dispute the incredible effects owning a dog may have on an owner.

Read more here: Melancollie: New Studies Show Dogs Can Help Our Mental Health Crisis