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More than walks in the park: The unexpected ways dogs support our well-being

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Dogs Vets

The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.


Dogs are well-known for their enthusiastic tail wags, adorable puppy-dog eyes, and love of a good belly rub. But beneath all that fur and fluff lies a powerful force for improving our mental well-being.

Sure, walks and playtime are nice, but did you know there are hidden superpowers in our canine companions that can profoundly impact our mental and emotional health? These furry friends offer much more than just companionship.

The Science of Doggy Comfort

It’s not just in our heads — scientists are proving that dogs significantly benefit our mental health. Turns out, our canine companions can:

  • Reduce stress: Simply petting a dog releases a calming hormone called oxytocin in our bodies. This hormone can make us feel happier and safer and even lower our blood pressure. Who knew cuddles could be so healthy?
  • Lift our spirits: Dogs have a knack for making us smile and laugh. Their goofy antics and love of play remind us not to take life so seriously. This playfulness helps us shake off negative thoughts and find joy in simple moments.
  • Get us moving: Owning a dog often makes us more active. Dogs need walks, playtime, and trips to the park — and all that movement is amazing for our minds and bodies. Exercise is a natural mood-booster.
  • Break the loneliness: Whether it’s striking up a conversation with another dog owner at the park or just feeling the quiet bond with a furry cuddle buddy, our canine companions help us avoid feeling isolated.

Secret Canine Superpowers

Beyond the benefits science can measure, dogs have some qualities that can enhance our lives:

  • Unconditional love: Dogs always give us the “zoomies” when we walk through the door — tail wagging, eyes bright, and happy to see us. They don’t care what we look like, how we did at work, or whether we had a great or terrible day. This unconditional love creates a safe space where we feel completely accepted.
  • Loyal listeners: Need to vent without judgment? Dogs provide the best listening ears around. Talking out loud to your pup can help you process tough emotions and gain clarity, even though they might not offer verbal advice!
  • Life teachers: Ever noticed how dogs live in the present moment? They find joy in a sunny nap, chasing birds, or a long sniff on their walk. Dogs remind us to savor the small things, let go of worry, and simply be.

Is a Dog Right for Me?

While dogs have amazing benefits, owning one takes time, money, and a whole lot of responsibility. They need proper food, shelter, exercise, and trips to the vet. Before rushing out to adopt, ask yourself if you can handle these commitments. If now isn’t the right time, that’s okay!

Here are ways to still get your doggie fix:

  • Volunteering at a shelter: You can help by walking dogs, socializing with them, or cleaning up. Shelters always need an extra pair of hands (and loving hearts).
  • Offering to dog-sit: Maybe you have friends or neighbors who could use a hand watching their pup. It’s a great way to experience doggy companionship without long-term responsibility.
  • Visiting therapy dogs: Many schools, hospitals, and libraries have programs with specially trained therapy dogs. It’s amazing how much comfort their presence brings.

Building Resilience: How Dogs Help Us Bounce Back

Life isn’t always smooth sailing. We face hurdles, bad days, and even heartbreaks. Dogs have a way of helping us develop inner strength to face these challenges with more resilience. Here’s how:

  • Routine and responsibility: Caring for a dog adds structure to our lives. Even when we don’t feel our best, sticking to a routine of walks, feedings, and care teaches us to push through hard days. This “I can do this!” attitude spills over into other areas of our lives.
  • Learning from challenges: Training a dog rarely goes perfectly. They might pull on the leash, get spooked by noises, or forget all their commands in a moment of excitement. Through patience and persistence, we learn that setbacks are natural. With consistent positive training, most obstacles can be overcome.
  • Emotional outlets: Dogs don’t mind if we cry on their furry shoulders. Cuddling our dog or going for a long walk with them during periods of sadness or frustration provides a healthy release. Letting those emotions out, instead of bottling them up, helps us bounce back more quickly.
  • Sense of perspective: Our troubles sometimes tend to dominate our entire headspace. Playing with a dog, enjoying their silliness, or caring for their needs helps us break free from our negative thought loops. Dogs offer a welcome reminder that even when things are tough, there’s still goodness and beauty to be found.

Do I Need Therapy? When It’s Time to Seek Help

Dogs are incredibly supportive, but even the cutest pup can’t cure our every mental health problem.

Here are some signs that it may be beneficial to seek professional help:

  • Things feel overwhelming: When worries start piling up, controlling our emotions becomes hard, and life feels too much, a therapist can offer support.
  • Sadness or hopelessness lingers: Everyone has off days, but if you feel consistently down or unmotivated for several weeks, reaching out for support can help.
  • Relationships feel strained: Do you have difficulty connecting meaningfully with friends or family? Therapy helps us communicate and understand relationships better.
  • Substance abuse or risk-taking: If you’re turning to drugs, alcohol, or other risky behaviors as a way to cope with difficult emotions, a therapist can help address the underlying issues and explore healthier coping mechanisms.

You’re Not Alone

No matter your struggles, it’s important to remember you don’t have to go through it alone. Sometimes, asking for help isn’t easy, but taking that step is a testament to your strength.

Whether it’s the love of a furry friend, support from a family member, or professional guidance from a therapist, you can boost your well-being and move toward happiness.


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