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Mental Health - How Your Dog Can Help

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

We all know that dogs have a ‘feel good’ factor. They are always accepting of us – they want to greet us no matter what we’ve done or how bad we’re feeling. Their unconditional love and affection are nothing short of amazing and are on offer 24/7.

Dogs offer an uncomplicated bond. We don’t have to explain ourselves to our dogs. They don’t care whether we have our make up on or have showered (they maybe even prefer us when we don’t – more interesting smells for their wonderful noses!!!).

They have a way of knowing how we feel without us having to resort to words, which when you’re exhausted and unmotivated may be too much in terms of interacting with people.

It’s easier and more comforting to snuggle up with your dog.

Having a dog also means that you need put something else above your own needs. He can’t fend for himself, so you are the person responsible for him being fed and watered, at the most basic - Amazing. Maybe some days you can take him for a walk - Brilliant!

The bottom line, when sometimes there is no other bottom line, is that your dog needs you. Maybe no other person in your life needs you, you are isolated with no family or friends, but your dog needs you.

If you can manage to get out for a walk, you can meet other people who love dogs. And if you are nervous about speaking to people the fact that they are more interested in your dog rather than you can be a way to allow you to be less anxious and enjoy the interaction.

I’m a ‘human’ therapist who sees people who sometimes have no hope. And I ask the question ‘do you have a pet?’. This is often a way of helping people realise that they have something to live for.

I work with people who experience stress, anxiety, depression and trauma. Sometimes in my therapy sessions, if the client requests it, my dog, Solas, comes into the session. She is amazingly responsive, she may be lying down, but if a client gets upset, she gets up and goes over to them. They then can stroke her and gain some calmness from her.

There is increasing research that backs up how dogs can help us build resilience in ourselves, and resilience is a major factor in good mental health.

So, hug your dog! When you do lots of 'feel good' hormones are released that can change how you feel.

Never underestimate the power that having your dog close can make to how you are feeling.

Never say 'he's just a dog'.

Your dog offers a relational bond - an attachment as powerful as that which occurs between a mother and infant at birth. The same hormones are released when you look into your dogs' eyes and when you touch him, as when a mother looks at her baby and cuddles him. These are powerful foundations of relationships. When we 'fall in love' we have a hormonal and chemical explosion in our bodies that causes us to feel a connection and strong bonding. We 'fall in love' with our partners. Mothers 'fall in love' with their babies. We 'fall in love' with our dogs.

This bond brings about feelings of wanting to take care of and to protect. This in turn motivates a very basic and hard-wired emotional system in mammals, which is to nurture. To be bonded in a very fundamental and strong way.

So, our dogs help our nervous system to regulate, to be healthy, and to shift our focus from ourselves to others (our dog!).

Being 'social' is a necessary part of mental health for people. Unfortunately, When people pose a threat it makes social contact difficult.

Yet, as social mammals we need and crave contact.

This is where the 'hero' - our dog, come in. Fortunately, the social contact doesn't have to come from a member of our 'same species' group. The process of domestication in our dogs has resulted in the development of a cross-species bonding and relationship which includes understanding of 'social' cues between our species.

How amazing is that!!!

So, your dog is right there waiting to help you.

The downside however, is that since you have this close bond with your dog, it's likely that he might 'get on your nerves' at times, or you just might get frustrated or annoyed.

Like any other relationship sometimes you need a bit of help to sort out your communication problems.

The Really Useful Dog Training School can help. With our unique experience with dogs and 'humans' we see and are able to work with both sides of the relationship. Call us on 07544 729237.

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