As a dog owner myself, I could speak from personal experience about the multitude of benefits that come with having a canine in one’s life. However, I could also speak from the perspective of a therapist. Beyond the undeniable bond you often observe between humans and dogs, having a canine in one’s life can have a significant impact on one’s mental health. I encourage my clients to be open to all manners of improving one’s mental health, and having a furry, four-legged friend in one’s everyday life tops the list!!
As animals, dogs do not judge us; they accept us as we are. You can interact with your dog without fear of judgment or ridicule. Clients of mine who struggle to express their feelings or let out their emotions may benefit immensely from having a dog. While it can be difficult to open up and express how one is feeling to other humans, your dog will always be the most empathic and understanding listener!
Having a dog will allow you to focus on the animal and its needs, drawing your attention away from painful emotions and towards something that brings love and comfort into your life. Through this interaction, you have the opportunity to both nurture something else and feel cared for and loved in return. It is not just the owner who can communicate empathy towards the dog, but dogs too have their own unique way of exhibiting empathic understanding of their owner’s emotional state. Because of this, clients with dogs often experience a reduction in stress, increased self-esteem and confidence, improved mood, and better communication skills. It has also been found that even just petting a dog will cause the release of endorphins. For all of us, the more endorphins in our system the better we feel!
Dogs can help any person, and specifically those suffering from emotional and behavioral disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, autism, substance abuse or addiction, and dementia. Animals can provide a calming, soothing effect on their owners, allowing them to turn focus away from their anxieties, stresses, and struggles while interacting with their dog. Depending on the specific condition and needs of my client, we will discuss particular situations that the dog can help with and how to fully embrace all that a dog can offer in one’s life. Caring for a dog can increase one’s social behaviors, lift spirits and reduce depression, encourage communication, provide comfort, decrease boredom, reduce anxiety, lessen feelings of loneliness, and enhance motivation. Dogs can also promote one’s physical health, including lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, diminishing overall physical pain, and producing an automatic relaxation response.
Although any breed of dog can be helpful and a lifelong friend for my clients, there are specific breeds that I recommend for their quick learning abilities and friendly demeanor. The best dogs for mental and psychological health include:
All of these dogs have impeccable learning skills, meaning they can be trained quickly and very specifically to meet one’s needs. Although these are the best breeds for dog therapy, remember, that does not mean other dog breeds are excluded. All that matters is that you feel connected to your dog because the benefits of having a furry friend in your life, regardless of breed, can be life-changing.
If you are interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to contact me. At my South Bay therapy office, we can explore all therapy options including introducing a new furry friend into your life. Please call for more questions or to setup your next consultation.