Paws For Thought: Can Owning A Dog Improve Your Mental Health? - Hobbster

Paws For Thought: Can Owning A Dog Improve Your Mental Health?

 

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Does having a dog really have an impact on our health and wellbeing?

For centuries, dogs have held a special place in our hearts, but beyond their unwavering loyalty and boundless energy, could our four-legged friends also hold the key to improved physical and mental health? I’ve always loved dogs. My personal journey with dogs began back when I was a child with an exuberant family German Shepherd, which was part family dog, part working dog.

Like a lot of people, I’ve always liked the idea of owning a dog. But the practicalities of everyday life always got in the way of my aspiration to become a dog owner - university, periods of house relocations, commuting to work in London - a whole bunch of reasons that would have prevented me being a responsible and caring owner. And so, the idea remained just that, an idea that simmered as the years ticked on by.

And then came Covid...

The Pandemic Puppy Phenomenon

The sudden isolation of lockdown had an impact on people’s mental health, emotional and social wellbeing. This enforced disconnect from others, in some, increased feelings of isolation contributing to heightened levels of stress and anxiety, and in some cases this meant physical health also suffered with the stay-at-home message making it easy to ‘forget’ normal, everyday physical activity. In retrospect Covid highlighted the importance of maintaining connections, seeking support from others, and prioritizing self-care.

Amidst lockdowns and social distancing measures, people were craving connection and companionships, and many turned to dog ownership as a means of coping with increased feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The RSPCA stated that of the 12 million dogs in the UK, 3 million were acquired as ‘pandemic puppies’, because people were spending more time at home or working from home, with 12% citing loneliness as a reason.*

For me, it was the first time since I’d started working, in predominantly office-based jobs, that I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands. And, like everyone else, as the days turned into week and months my sense of disconnect and isolation began to grow, and even when out walking it was really hard to connect with other people who were focussed on maintaining a 2 meter distance. So, I began investigating, and had a lot of fun investigating breed types, until I shortlisted the Rhodesian Ridgeback. In July 2020 I found a friendly breeder, took a deep breath, and brought a puppy home.

And now, years later, I can see the positive impact that having a dog has had on my wellbeing, as well as countless other owners

A Sense of ownership and responsibility

Dogs thrive on consistency and routine, so dog owners are required to commit to a structured daily routine, from feeding and grooming to exercise and training. Caring for a dog requires dedication and commitment, fostering a sense of responsibility that extends beyond ourselves. The simple act of caring for another living is incredibly rewarding, boosting self-esteem, and instilling a sense of accomplishment.

Building Community Through Connections

Owning a dog is an invitation for conversation – it opens the door to a wider community of fellow dog lovers. Dog walking, dog parks, training classes, and social media groups still provides me with opportunities to connect with like-minded people. Whether it’s chatting with fellow dog walkers or joining online groups dedicated to specific breeds, us dog owners have access to a supportive network of individuals [regardless of age, background, economic status] who appreciate the unique joys and challenges of life with a canine companion. People, who probably wouldn’t otherwise, frequently come up to me on my walks to pet my dog and share their own dog experiences. A lot of friendships begin on dog walks.

Pawsitivity through Physicality

Dog owners tend to have higher levels of physical activity compared to non-owners, as they are more likely to engage in regular daily walks and outdoor activities with their pets. This increased exercise can lead to improvements in cardiovascular health, weight management, and overall fitness. This daily enforced programme has certainly resulted in my own levels of fitness improving over the years. My weight is down, my posture has improved, old injuries that used to plague me are gone, and my sleep has greatly improved.

The Science Behind the Smile

Scientific studies have also shown that interacting with dogs, or even just maintaining their eye contact, can trigger the release of endorphins, lower cortisol levels and increase oxytocin levels in the brain which lowers stress levels in the body. Interestingly, research with dogs has shown that they also get an oxytocin boost from these interactions. Dog owners also boost their own stress resiliency by regularly getting them out of the house, into dog parks, and meeting new people.**

 

The positive impact of dog ownership on our lives cannot be overstated. From providing companionship and emotional support, to promoting physical activity and improving overall well-being, dogs have a unique ability to enrich our lives in profound ways.

But owning a dog goes beyond having a pet – they remind us of the value that can be found in living in the present, showing us that happiness doesn’t necessarily lie in grand achievements or material possessions, but in the simplicity and authenticity of everyday experiences.

If you’re still thinking about welcoming a canine companion into your home or want to share how owning a dog has positively changed your life, let me know in the comments below

Sources:

*SageCity https://www.sagacitysolutions.co.uk/about/insights-library/dog-owners-pet-insurance-and-the-impact-of-covid-19
** Harvard Magazine: The Health Benefits of Owning a Pet | Harvard Magazine
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