Taking Care of the Mental Health of You and Your Dog
The pandemic and associated lockdowns have reiterated what many already knew: having a pet is a great boost for people’s mental health. Dogs are particularly good in this regard because, as well as providing loving companionship and giving purpose to the day, they also normally require their owners to be active.
Daily walks give owners valuable exercise, which brings proven mental health benefits. Walks also encourage conversation and connection with other people in your community who will stop to chat while petting your dog.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, Dogs have also been shown to bring specific mental health benefits to elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s and children with ADHD or autism:
"With an animal in the home, people with Alzheimer's are thought to have fewer anxious outbursts... Children with ADHD can benefit from working with and keeping a pet."
How you can help your dog’s mental health
So, the mental health benefits dogs give us are clear. But do enough people think about what they can do for their dog’s mental wellbeing? It’s an important question as research shows as many as 1 in every 10 dogs in the UK suffers from mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Here are our top tips for helping your beloved pooch to be as happy as can be:
Watch out for the signs – the symptoms of anxiety and depression in dogs are varied. Signs of anxiety include trying to escape or hide, repetitive behaviour (such as compulsive self-grooming), trembling, acting aggressively, being inactive and vomiting, defecating, or urinating inside the house. Signs of depression include being withdrawn or inactive, loss of appetite and aggression.
Photo credit: @ruby_n_gizmo
Pay extra attention to the early years – just like humans, the first few years of a dog’s life set the foundation for everything to follow. Like human babies, young puppies will thrive on routine, and consistency provides them with the security they need to feel comfortable. Also, introducing a young pup to a variety of experiences and encouraging them to be sociable inside and outside the home will help them to develop their confidence.
Build trust – providing consistent loving care will help to build the bond between you and your dog. This is especially important when dealing with rescue dogs who might have had traumatic experiences with previous owners. If you see that any particular movements or actions are causing your dog stress, try to avoid them until you have built the trust bond.
Give them their own safe space – just like people, dogs enjoy having a quiet and calm place to go when they feel stressed. Make sure you set aside some space in the home for them where they can relax when they feel anxious. Ideally, it should be somewhere far away from the bustle of the rest of their home, with their bed, blanket, and a favourite toy so they will feel comfortable and calm.
Keep them active – walks every day are a great boost for the mental health of you and your dog, so what’s not to love? But if you are genuinely too busy to take the dog for a walk, why not look into a local dog-walking service? Although, make sure to introduce your dog to their walker first so you can help build that trusting bond.
I hope you found our tips helpful and, please, remember to make time to look after yours, and your dog’s, mental health. Also remember that it’s okay to not be okay, and there are many resources available and people you can talk to who will support you if you need them.
For more information visit: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help