Dogs make people happy. They encourage us to exercise more, which lowers stress levels. According to WebMD, dogs can decrease cortisol levels, heart rate and blood pressure by letting you pet them! Daily outdoor excursions with your dog exposes you to fresh air, vitamin D and makes sure you and your dog take breaks during the day.
Spending time with your dog while working from home or during the isolation and lockdown orders of 2020 helps calm us down and builds an even stronger bond. Their unconditional love, affection, and lack of judgement ramps up oxytocin production for both dogs and humans, increasing the attachment and good feelings of love and acceptance.
Caring for a dog restores a sense of purpose, we can focus on their needs and that takes us outside of ourselves. Pups are so appreciative of us, it never feels unwanted or lost on them. You can’t help but care for them, they demand it! This is especially important for anyone experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. We will look at those examples a bit more later on.
Dogs live in the moment, they react to going outside for a walk, getting a treat, playing in snow, with so much enthusiasm it is hard not to smile and want to be more like them. They are so happy to just lie around with you and be with you.
Moving on to dogs trained for psychiatric service. These dogs bring with them all of the health, mental and physical, benefits above as well as specific skills for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, even schizophrenia.
If you are suffering from PTSD, a psychiatric service dog can help by picking up on your anxiety prior to an episode. They can nuzzle you to shift focus or give you a lick so you know you are not alone. These dogs can help with panic attacks as well. They can interpret a signal or smell your stress and lead you outside and away from any perceived danger. Even if you just need to be away from other people. Your service dog can stop people from approaching you if you are afraid of crowds. If you need medication to stop an attack your dog can also be trained to bring you medication.
Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can experience life-altering symptoms and a dog can be trained to recognize a symptom and then distract the person from compulsive behavior. This makes it easier to function in society.
Dogs are very intuitive and can sometimes sense if their person is anxious or pre-attack, they have the ability to distract or bring a person back from the edge.
At the very least dogs have the ability to shift our perspective, show us we are loved and needed and what unbridled joy looks like. We feel protected, important, and part of a unit. All of these are human needs and if we don’t experience them we suffer. Our dogs love us and we love them and that kind of simple acceptance is more powerful than we realize.