Did you make a New Year’s resolution to focus on your mental health? Does the divisive political climate present a daunting barrier to happiness? If so, you’re not alone. But if you live with a dog, we’ve got good news for you. You already have a wellness resource at your fingertips. Why? Because dogs make you happier.
When it comes to dogs and mental health, the experts agree: Dogs help with depression and reduce anxiety. They can relieve stress and boost your mood. They also provide companionship and help you establish healthy routines.
Here are our 4 tips on how you can tap into that canine superpower to improve your wellbeing in 2022.
1. Be More Like Your Dog
You know who never argues online with strangers, or ruminates on distressing news headlines? Your dog, that’s who! Fluffy isn’t worried about what politicians think. Rocky doesn’t care who the neighbors voted for. And Astro isn’t outraged by fake news.
That’s because they live in the here and now. They seek pleasure in simple things, such as walks, treats, cuddles, ear scratches and sometimes chasing squirrels. And we humans should do the same.
The next time you find yourself doom-scrolling, make the choice to turn that attention to your dog instead. Step away from the computer and stoop down to give your dog a belly rub. Pull out your hound’s favorite pull toy to start an impromptu tug-of-war. Walk out to the back yard for a quick round of fetch. Or just cuddle on the couch with your fur baby for 15 minutes.
You’ll find that the benefits of petting a dog for even a few minutes will outweigh any adrenaline hit you get from Facebook, Twitter or TikTok. (Though, a good squirrel video is still pretty awesome.)
2. Take More Walks With Your Dog
The benefits of walking a dog are well-established. Statistics show that dog owners walk an average of nearly nine hours per week, or about 36 miles. This is 22 minutes more than non-owners on average.
In addition to stimulating the release of “happiness hormones” (as discussed in a previous blog post), daily brisk walks don’t just make your dog happy, they can help reduce your risk for diabetes and cancer.
Another benefit of walking your dog is the increased opportunities for face-to-face social interactions with other people. (Our short leashes allow you to socialize safely at a healthy pandemic distance.) Those people will often compliment your dog, which can give you a boost of happiness. In fact, many dog owners say those compliments make them feel better than chocolate, pizza, or even a great first date.
3. Train Your Dog to Help with Depression and Anxiety
Fully trained service dogs can cost anywhere between $30,000 and $40,000. But it is possible to train your pup to at least help lessen the duration and strength of intense feelings like depression and anxiety.
By teaching your dog the “paws up” command, he or she can provide emotional support how and when you need it. Your dog can learn to sit next to you for a petting session on command, or to provide Deep Pressure Therapy by lying on your chest or placing their head or legs in your lap.
Of course, not all dogs will immediately respond to “paws up” training. And most dog parents need quite a bit of education to learn how dogs think before they can be effective trainers. Fortunately, there are many online resources available that can train you to train your pup, without breaking the bank.
- We love the free videos on McCann Dog Training’s YouTube channel.
- Cesar Milan’s channel, focusing on dog psychology, is both entertaining and educational.
- And Zac George’s Dog Training Revolution episodes are quite in-depth.
- You can also purchase dog training videos from Lucky Dog Training Club’s dog training video library.
4. Recognize Your Dog’s Limits
While dogs are remarkably effective at making you happier by helping with depression, anxiety, and mental health in general, they are not miracle workers. Sometimes we just simply need talk therapy, behavioral therapy, or medical therapy to address crippling depression and anxiety.
If you have health insurance through your workplace, take advantage of your employer’s confidential 800 number to learn about free mental health resources that may be available to you. If you are looking for competent counseling, Mental Health Match can help you find a licensed therapist who specializes in your particular needs.
When you need more than the love of a dog to feel good about yourself and your life, there is absolutely no shame in seeking additional help.
Here’s to your dog making you a wee bit happier and mentally healthy in 2022!
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