How Dogs Positively Effect Mental Health

This blog was written by Laura Mundy of @lauramundydogtraining

We’ve known for a long while now that coming home and seeing your dogs face can make a bad day better, but what exactly does that mean? With research into the human-animal bond growing rapidly, many studies have shown that interactions with dogs can reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase levels of oxytocin (the love hormone).  

These positive influences can be experienced by the Spike, the family dog but some people may get the joy of interacting with a therapy dog. Therapy dogs can be seen visiting places such as hospitals,  schools and a range of other settings. These dogs are hugely beneficial for those people that may be experiencing stress or anxiety from physical illnesses, needing to undergo painful rehabilitation,  feeling socially isolated or disconnected from the community, among so many other psychological stressors and challenges.  

Interactions with a dog such as a good play session have also been shown to impact levels of serotonin and dopamine, aka ‘happy hormones’. While serotonin and dopamine influence our mood,  serotonin also influences things such as our alertness, concentration and our sleep. Dopamine is our  ‘reward centre’ hormone, giving us that rush of motivation to perform behaviours and is also related to developing addictions.  

Our dogs also have a special way of easing loneliness. Not only directly when giving us company at home, but also as a social lubricant out and about. There’s nothing like having a dog with us to get chatting to others out on walks and link us with other dog-loving community members.  

This feeling of inclusion and connectedness is so important for our mental health. In this crazy time of living through a pandemic, many of us have felt extremely socially isolated being stuck at home. For those that live alone, dogs have played a huge role in helping us which has been shown by the huge adoption rates of pets over this time.  

Some dogs can also fill the special role of an assistance dog for those who experience mental illness across a  spectrum of symptoms. From depression, anxiety, trauma, autism, drug and alcohol addiction, social concerns and so much more. The advancement of the psychiatric assistance dog space has been a life-changer for so many. Even the training and accreditation of pet dogs to be able to work as an assistance dogs has nothing short of saved the lives of many, many people. For those that have experienced severe trauma, simply leaving the house would be an exceptionally daunting experience but feeling the presence of your most trusted companion, your dog, ‘blocking’ that space between you and others can be the difference between feeling safe to queue in a shop or not leaving the house. Being able to get some quality sleep is something that anxiety can rob many of, The feeling of a dog with you and knowing they will alert you to anything that may be a safety risk can mean anxiety sufferers finally get to enjoy some sleep.  

Our dogs fulfil so many functions for us from family members, empty nester replacement ‘kids’,  exercise companions, preventing loneliness, a play buddy, someone to nurture and care for, and for many they can be that trusted friend that keeps us alive and ‘helps us feel normal’. For some, they  can be the reason to stay alive and get out of bed in the morning, and for that, we are very lucky to have them in our lives.