Do Dogs Help Depression?

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Have you ever thought that it could be you causing your dog to be anxious?

It could be through the lifestyle you lead or your general attitude. It could be that you are under pressure and suffering from stress yourself.

Dogs tend to mirror their owners in some cases and generally the more laid back you are with a dog the better the results.

That said, it is important for us to dig deeper and learn a bit more about this condition that can often be overlooked.

Research that is relatively new in the field of dog temperament has indeed found that the stress levels in dogs have a direct correlation to how we ourselves are behaving around them.

All dogs are different and all breeds too. It is important for us as owners that we don’t profile them too much.

They are individuals that have similar characteristics to their breed, but we need to be mindful of thinking of them as the same as other dogs you may have had previously or by allowing popular culture predetermine what a breed can be like.

Give your dog a chance and treat them as an individual.

When we get the opportunity to welcome a dog into our home it truly is an amazing thing for us, but it can be an extremely worrying and scary time for the dog.

That is why it is important to always try to make sure that our homes are a safe and peaceful environment for our dogs to live in.

Expecting them to just fit in with whatever internal turmoil is going on in our worlds truly is a recipe for disaster.

As humans, we suffer stressors all of the time. These can be work-related, relationship-related, financial hardships…the list is pretty much endless.

How we deal with these life events directly affects our dogs. They pick up on our emotions incredibly well.

Dogs can smell fear. Dogs can smell problems and they read us way better than we read them.

One thing that a lot of people report with their dogs is the kinds of disruptive behavior that a dog can exhibit when they are left alone, in the home for instance, for a period of time.

Generally, this behavior is because the dog is stressed. They are worried about being left alone and this anxiety causes them to behave like this.

The long term damage that can be done to the dog’s psyche can then cause other problems including depression and deeper worry for them.

The physical well being of dogs will deteriorate if they are put under prolonged stress, in much the same way as humans health will deteriorate.

People that suffer long term worry and psychological problems will physically get poorly.

This is the same for dogs and like us, they would need to be treated with the canine equivalent of Prozac, albeit a beef-flavored one.

Behavioral experts have been looking into this for a number of years and although the research is extensive, we have to remember that dogs simply can not tell us how they are feeling.

This is why we must as owners, try to build those bonds and really try to find an unspoken middle ground where the dogs can tell us what they need by their actions and behavior, and we both(species) communicate more effectively as a result.

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Although our four-legged friends do not have the ability to talk, they can tell us many things in the way they behave along with physical signs such as tail activity, how their ears are postured, or indeed how they are sitting, standing, crouching, etc.

These are all excellent “shows” that dogs exhibit and we as owners need to understand what they mean.

These indicators will let us know what the current state of mind the dog is in but they are little help when it comes to understanding if our dog is actually stressed or feeling the impact of long term worry or stress.

Science has made a recent breakthrough in the field of canine stress when it was discovered that when a dog is experiencing stress they actually secrete the very same hormones that we as humans do.

Cortisol is released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands of the dog and this is the hormone that ignites the “fight, flight or freeze” reaction that dogs have along with us as humans.

Human behavior around a dog influences them directly and they will mirror your anxiety and worries along with their own.

It is often stated that dogs can smell fear and that is quite correct as fear is a genuine response to a dangerous or worrying situation and the cortisol released by us is picked up on by a dog.

Our physicality changes and we may start to sweat with worry and as our body temperature goes up the cortisol is racing into our bloodstream and we often refer to it as an “Adrenaline Rush”

Changes in the way we behave always impact our families and as dogs are part of our family, our pack, it ultimately is picked up on and effects them.

Studies have shown that happy people generally have happy dogs and the counter to this argument is also true.

We shouldn’t really be surprised by that but it is interesting when you start to look at behaviors of dogs that are with owners who are not happy, nor angry but suffer from depression and low self-esteem.

This manifests itself in a multitude of guises but in essence, a dog owner who has low confidence and suffers from dips in mood will always transfer that kind of emotion to their dogs.

Dogs are absolutely brilliant receivers of emotions and if we look at something as simple as a dog walk and how loose or tight the lead is, this is picked up by your dog as a way of them gauging your confidence in any kind of situation that may arise.

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Sadly, these days mental health issues are on the rise.

Many people are struggling with all forms of depression and again work-related stress can soon manifest itself into a profound and real depression.

Emotional stress caused by loneliness is also a huge contributing factor and can be a key trigger in someone’s mood dropping.

But, having a dog can really help in this kind of situation. Studies have shown that these levels of mood can be vastly improved in over 80% of cases studied.

Pet therapy in hospitals and care homes has already shown how it can vastly improve the mood of patients and residents and the general non-judgemental attitude of dogs toward people is a massive factor in this.

Pets and companion animals provide vital emotional support for their owners and especially for people who suffer from dementia and also in children with autism.

There is something about a dog that brings out the best in us as humans and we can forget about our own worries for a while when we are in the company of a dog.

As I sit here typing looking down at my boy Wilson who is blissfully fast asleep, it fills me with immense happiness and wellbeing.

We will go out for our early morning walk in a few hours which we both enjoy and which benefits me just as much as him.

You can’t take a day off from your dog walking duties and again, this is a great way to keep fit and healthy, not just physically but also for your mindset.

The bond that you develop with a dog releases a chemical called Oxytocin. This is also sometimes referred to as a “feel-good hormone” and that pretty much sums it up accurately.

It helps us feel relaxed and happy and just being around your dog can release this much-needed injection of a pick-me-up in these testing times we often find ourselves in these days.

It really is a symbiotic relationship that we have with our dogs. We both benefit mutually from being together.

Our moods do affect our dogs but more often than not, the simple fact that we have dogs in our lives makes us happier and less selfish people.

Studies back this up with hard data showing that people with pets in their lives have less chance of developing serious mental health conditions including depression.

I know of one lady local to me who told me that it was her doctor that told her that maybe getting a dog was a good idea to help her with her depression.

Here is her story and I hope in some ways it resonates with all of us.

She was hesitant at first as she had never owned a dog before but he had told her that it could help her probably much more than the medication she was on.

She described to me that she had depression and anxiety for a number of years and had recently undergone a course of cognitive behavior therapy which had done little to lighten her feelings of loneliness.

She had told me that she had good days and bad days and on the bad days she would just stay in bed all day and want to shut out the world.

It had cost her friendships and work over the years along with the financial implications of this terrible condition too.

She had decided to take the doctor’s advice and get a dog and after good advice, she went to her local rescue center and picked out a lovely, unwanted new best friend!

She enthused to me that it was a steep learning curve of getting to know her new dog, a mixed breed crossed with about 3 different kinds of other dogs, let’s call it a terrier of sorts!

It had been at the rescue center for 9 months and the people there had said that no one ever took any interest in rehoming him and the center had sort of adopted him themselves and he was a happy and charming little guy that, ultimately they were sad to see go.

For the first few weeks, she had been so engrossed in looking after the little guy that she had almost forgotten how to feel as low as she had been feeling before he came along.

Dogs need stuff from us and they are never subtle either, so going out three or four times a day became normal.

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As did sharing her bed and couch with him and also just the general thought processes that you have to have when you have a dog.

All of these things, she explained, had really helped her focus on something other than herself.

And that is the key to all of this.

She explained that over the last year of having him she had improved her wellbeing by a countless amount.

She had met new people (other dog walkers) and had found herself generally feeling a lot better.

For sure, she still had a few dips every so often.

She still has to take her medication too because depression never really goes away.

But her loveable dog soon helped her to move out of it.

She said “You know what? I actually think he knows when I am a bit low..and he plays up a bit just to get me going again..you know…a bit like a kick up my butt!”

She then said one thing that will always stay with me and it pretty much sums up how I feel about the dogs that I have had over the years.

She said, “I went to the rescue center to get a dog……but in reality, he rescued me!”

I don’t think I can add any more to that.

Thanks for reading.


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