How Dogs Can Help with Depression

Ashleigh Rose Bottorff

Updated: 11/08/2023

If you have ever had a dog, you know the feeling when you walk through the door, whether it be from a long day at work or a 15 minute trip to the grocery store. You’re greeted like you’ve been gone forever by a wagging tail and boundless energy that says “Let’s play ball!” No matter your mood, good, bad, happy or depressed, the sight of your favorite four legged friend says “I need you! I’m so glad you’re home. I missed you!” You ARE their world!

Just a Few Ways Dogs Can Help Us with Depression

Dogs Give Us Unconditional Love

Our dogs love us unconditionally and they don’t care what job we have, how much money is in our bank account or the size of our home. They always love us and are always there for us. They don’t criticize us, they don’t question us, we can discuss any subject with them, they listen intently, they are our therapist, best friend and companion in the best of times and the worst of times! Dogs are pack animals and we are a member of their pack. We are their family! We enjoy taking them for walks, playing with them, talking and singing to them, traveling with them and taking them to work with us. Dog ownership has also been known to boost self esteem. We take pride in our dogs; after all, they ARE our kids!

Dogs Contribute to Overall Good Health

Dogs contribute to good human health and our happiness. They reduce stress, anxiety and depression. They ease loneliness, encourage exercise and are the best companions a human can ask for. They listen to our endless stories, both positive and negative and can sense our moods. When we are sad, they are sad. When we are happy, they are happy. They are the epitome of serenity. They get us through everything! Dogs offer us support and companionship.

Dogs owners tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. When you play with your dog, the feel-good brain chemicals, levels of serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine are raised. Petting your dog can even improve immune system health and relieve pain. Being a dog owner promotes bonding and overall good feelings, easing anxiety and depression.

Dogs Encourage Us to Exercise

Living in such a busy world, it is oftentimes difficult to get enough exercise. But not if you own a dog. They need exercise too and loving a dog creates a natural environment that says, let’s get some exercise. They encourage us to get outside, get some fresh air, play, run, and chase the ball with them regardless of season, temperature or how busy our schedule is. This form of taking care of ourselves through exercise because we love our dogs, brings a sense of being responsible not only to our dogs but to ourselves. Exercise promotes not only good physical health, but physically healthy people tend to be more mentally healthy as well!

Dogs Help Us Feel Calmer

Being a dog owner, has many perks that oftentimes we neglect due to a busy schedule. Dogs have a calming effect on us. We can relax, catch our breath and allow us to focus on something other than work, worries and ways that are not always healthy, including living with the challenges of depression and anxiety. We know when we have dogs, we have another responsibility – them! They count on us and we count on them.

Dogs Help Reduce Stress

Petting our dog gives us a natural stress-relieving effect. While looking into their eyes, we see the attention they give us, never wavering when we share things with them. Jumping on our laps, putting their head on our leg, dogs are soothing and provide an outlet for our daily stresses and issues that we cannot get anywhere else.

After all, it’s no coincidence that dogs, whether a family pet, service dog, or pet therapy dog, are the most common form of support animal for those with emotional issues, health issues like seizures, or even those with disabilities like blindness. Owning a dog has also been linked indirectly to weight loss, boosted energy levels and having a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Dogs Teach Us Empathy

In our busy world, we often forget to look out for each other. Dogs teach us that we have someone we can completely trust. That in turn helps us with socialization in the real world. We will be less apt to have a “watch your back” attitude and more apt to reach out to those in need, which results in a more positive, optimistic mood, and reduces depression and anxiety.

Dogs Promote Happiness and Being Responsible

Dog owners are generally happier because they have less stress, more coping skills, such as patience and a let’s help others focus. When we have a dog, we KNOW they are counting on us. They get us “out of ourselves” and make us realize there is more to life than “us”. We are less self-centered due to the responsibilities of being a pet owner. When we are helping others, particularly our dogs, we have more happiness that results in less depression.

Dogs Encourage Social Interaction

Owning a dog has many benefits of “getting out of yourself” and “getting together with others” with like-minded interests. Associating with other dog owners is not only beneficial to your dog but to you also. When your dog socializes with other dogs, you will feel upbeat and entertained to see your dog enjoying life with fellow canines. This in turn wards off depression and loneliness, not to mention the mood boosting activity of sharing YOUR dog stories with fellow dog owners!

Dogs Welcome Here!

When dogs are taken to the workplace, they can increase productivity and reduce stress, thereby improving employee satisfaction. When stressed at work, a simple pat on the dog’s head can get us through times of pressure and helps reduce the “spastic” environment we often feel at work. When a dog owner brings their “best friend” to the job site, co-workers feel more trust and camaraderie. Bringing your dog to work, says I am responsible, I care about my dog, I am less stressed and will be a better employee because of it. More and more workplaces and rehab centers are becoming “dog friendly” as they see the benefits for both the dog and the employee – a win-win situation for everyone!

As We Grow Older

Dogs are especially helpful as we grow older. Dogs owners have less stress and have a better sense of purpose and social connection. We know dogs need us for everything from their daily needs and activities that are both beneficial to the owner and our dog. Many times, growing older means being lonely and isolated. For dog owners, we are not alone, and we tend to socialize more as we have our dog activities that involve other dog owners. Dogs provide us with friendship not only from them, but with other dog owners. Who doesn’t love a “Let me tell you all about my dog!” story.

Dogs Make Us Feel Safer

Our dogs protect us no matter what! They give us a sense of security that nothing else can provide. Our home is our sanctuary to both us and our dog. They are a deterrent to would-be burglars. Dogs have a sixth sense to danger and make us feel safer and less anxious when they are with us, whether walking or at home. Dogs are always there for us as our protectors AND our friends. They are burglar alarms complete with barks and teeth. They will do whatever they have to do to protect their loved ones. Dogs give us a keen sense of security and a better night’s sleep, knowing our best friend is protecting us! They know they have a job to do! And they are proud to be on “patrol”!

Improving the Lives of Dogs AND You!

Overall, dogs can ease depression, anxiety and loneliness, and improve our quality of life that no other can! If you cannot own a dog right now, please visit your local animal shelter and become a volunteer to care for these beautiful creatures while they are awaiting their “furever” homes. You will make a dramatic difference for both them AND you!

Additional Resources: