Can Dogs Improve Your Mental Health?

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Let's get real for a moment. If you can look a puppy in the eyes and not melt, you have no soul!

Dogs have been man's best friend for decades and a firm family favourite when it comes to choosing a pet because let's face it, spooning your goldfish isn't quite the same.

 

 

Not just a faithful part of the family, we see them being used for everything from working dogs to showing through to guide dogs for the blind and mountain rescue dogs. There isn't much a dog can't do when the bond with it's owner is a special one and you only have to google "Dog Yoga" to see what I mean.

 

But what is it about this absolute four legged babe that has us hooked, falling head over heels every time we come home to a wagging tail and goofy smile. And can they actually boost our mental health, like, for realsies?

 

There's plenty of evidence to say yes!

According to Time, Scientists are now digging up evidence that animals can help improve mental health, even for people with challenging disorders, and the benefits are impressive enough that clinical settings are opening their doors to animal-assisted interventions or pet therapy. Gone are the days when animals were banned from hospitals for hygiene reasons - it's now common for them to have some sort of animal program.

Our dogs are providing us with social support, a proven antidote to anxiety and loneliness and there's some great science that is increasingly backing this up. In fact animals of many types can help calm stress, fear and anxiety in young children, the elderly and everyone in between.

Then there's this absolutely adorable study whereby children who struggle with reading read aloud to a trained dog and handler and showed fewer anxiety symptoms. “Their attitudes change and their skills improve,” says Lisa Freeman, director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction.

Of course it wouldn't be a Relatable Miss Renton blog post without taking note of the fitness benefit our dogs can bring us too. They're a great motivator for getting us outside and moving which in turn, is beneficial to those with depression. PLUS walking your dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners and this helps us to stay socially connected and less withdrawn. The more social relationships and friendships we have, the healthier mentally we tend to be according to The Mental Health Foundation.

And if you've ever wondered if your dog loves you back then this little study might just make your heart flutter...

 

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They say the eyes are the window to the soul and this couldn't have been closer to the truth than when Animal behaviorist Takeumi Kikusui of Azabu University in Japan and his team found evidence in their new study, published in the journal Science, that suggests dogs used their lovable stare to win over the hearts of humans. If staring into the eyes of the dog for 5 minutes or longer, they found that each time it happens triggers in both brains are being fired and the love hormone oxytocin is released.

 

Takeumi states "We speculated that some small population of ancestor of dogs show an affiliative eye gaze toward humans, due to the change in the temperament. In this process, we agree that there is a [possibility] that dogs cleverly and unknowingly utilize a natural system meant for bonding a parent with his or her child."

 

Owners and dogs were quite literally gazing lovingly at one another! Isn't that incredible?

The jury is in and whilst the science continues to trickle through slowly one thing remains clear; the positive impact our dogs can have to our mental health is astounding. So the next time you come home to that face give them an extra BIG squeeze - our pals are selflessly helping us to build mental resilience.

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