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Mental Health Benefits of Having a Dog  

Dogs have been man’s best friends since antiquity. They may have started out as half-tamed wolves that were useful for hunting and protection, but soon became something more. In ancient Greek and Rome, leashed dogs are portrayed in mosaics and dogs were buried like beloved family members when they passed on. A dog’s loyalty and friendship was early seen as having benefits to humans beyond simply herding, hunting and protection. They soon proved useful for preserving mental health as well.

Dogs in Modern Canada

Canadians love their dogs. There are approximately 5.9 million dogs in Canada, meaning about 35% of Canadian households have a dog. The biggest problem Canadian dogs face is being overfed. It seems that while most area dog breeds were originally bred for hunting and pulling sleds, the modern Canadian dog tends to eat more than what's good for them. Canadians adore their dogs to the point of spoiling them. Canadians on some level do recognize the mental health benefits of a dog, but need to practice moderation to not let the physical benefits suffer.

mentally disabled woman with a second woman and a companion dog, concept learning by animal assisted living  dog mental health stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

The Health Benefits of Having a Dog

Dogs are pack animals. Over time, they have come to see humans as part of the pack. They have become attuned to humans and their emotions and behavior. They pay close attention to tone of voice and body language. A dog is ideal for reducing loneliness that leads to mental illness by being a constant companion. This reduces stress, anxiety and depression for dog owners. The physical act of caring for a dog can give a person a sense of purpose. Exercising by playing with a dog can vastly improve cardiovascular health.

Benefits of Having a Dog for People with Mental Health Conditions

Someone with ADHD might do well with the structure and routine that a dog needs. Burning energy by playing with a dog may be good for someone with a hyperactivity disorder. People with autism may enjoy having a small furry friend who will never judge or criticize them. Caring for a dog builds confidence and can improve social skills. Someone with sensory issues may acclimate themselves to how a dog feels, smells and sounds. Someone who struggles with their self-confidence may find that they get a great boost just from associating with a being that oozes unconditional love and uncritical support. Social anxiety can be quelled by bringing a dog to social groups with others that have dogs such as pet stores, dog parks and obedience training. People who suffer auditory hallucinations or suicidal thoughts may find pets a welcome distraction.

Lowering Stress With a Pet

It has been shown that interacting with a dog lowers stress hormones such as cortisol and raises levels of serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. This calms and relaxes the nervous system. Stroking a dog provides sensory stimulation that lowers blood pressure, further reducing stress in a way that inanimate objects can't seem to duplicate. Studies have shown that pet ownership reduces anxiety over all.

Woman With A Mental Problems Is Sitting Exhausted On The Floor With Her Dog Next To Her Woman with mental health problems is sitting desperate on the floor and  crying and her dog is next to her dog mental health stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images


There are so many ways that a dog can improve mental health. If nothing else, they give the owner something to live for. The interaction with another living thing plus the actions of caring for one can create mental stimulation that keeps the mind healthy. In the end, caring for a dog is also caring for yourself.

This article was written by Andrea Poteet-Bell, a journalist and editor. Her writing has appeared in local daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, and websites across the country. She graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a degree in print journalism and lives in Michigan with her husband and their dog, Charlie Brown.

Dog comforting owner
Dog comforting owner

View Sources - Ancient Dog Tombs: Greek Roman Epitaphs, Funerals and Quotes About Dead Pets - California Huntington Beach Drug Rehab - Canada's Pet Wellness Report - The Health and Mood-Boosting Benefits of Pets - Pets And Mental Health - 10 Ways Pets Support Mental Health

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February 20, 2024
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