Dogs can have a positive impact on human mental health in several ways. Therapy dogs particularly are trained dogs that provide comfort, support, and emotional healing to people in various settings, such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and disaster areas. Here are some of the ways dogs can help:
- Reducing stress and anxiety: Dogs can help to calm and comfort people who are feeling anxious or stressed, lowering their cortisol levels and increasing their release of endorphins. Simply petting or playing with a dog can trigger the release of oxytocin (the “love hormone”) which can improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Providing comfort and companionship: Dogs can provide emotional support and companionship to people who are feeling lonely, isolated, or in need of comfort.
- Improving mood and self-esteem: Interacting with a dog can trigger the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which can improve mood, self-esteem, and feelings of well-being.
- Aiding in physical therapy: Therapy dogs can assist in physical therapy by providing a motivating factor for patients to participate in exercises and movement.
- Encouraging communication: Dogs can provide a non-judgmental and comforting presence, allowing people to open up and communicate about their feelings and experiences.
- Boosting cognitive function: Dogs can also provide mental stimulation and improve cognitive function, especially for seniors with memory loss and those living with dementia.
- Helping with trauma recovery: Therapy dogs can provide comfort and support to people who have experienced trauma, helping them to process their emotions and recover from traumatic events.
- Increases physical activity: Owning a dog can encourage people to be more physically active, which can have positive effects on mental health and well-being.
- Enhances social connection: Owning a dog can provide opportunities for social interaction and companionship, helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Boosts self-esteem: Caring for a dog can provide a sense of purpose and boost self-esteem, especially for people who may be feeling isolated or disconnected from their community.
How the ‘love hormone’ works
The “love hormone,” also known as oxytocin, is a hormone that is released in both dogs and humans. It is associated with positive social behaviours, such as bonding, trust, and affection.
In dogs, oxytocin is released when they are petted, cuddled, or otherwise physically affectionate with their human companions. This release of oxytocin can increase feelings of bonding, attachment, and trust between dogs and humans. In humans, oxytocin is released when they engage in activities that promote feelings of bonding and trust. When humans interact with their dogs, the release of oxytocin can increase feelings of love, compassion, and affection towards their pets. This mutual release of oxytocin can lead to a positive feedback loop, where the human-dog bond is strengthened and reinforced with each interaction.