My husband and I had to put down our Labrador-Chow mix this morning. He did exactly what his sister did nine months ago: went out to our backyard on a cold and rainy night and just stood there, with his tail down, and wouldn’t come back in. It’s as if they both knew it was their time and wanted to die in peace.Dogs, of course, are good for depression.
1. Dogs offer unconditional love and acceptance.
As far as we know, dogs are without opinions, critiques, and verdicts. Even if you smell like their poop, they will snuggle up next to you. In a Johns Hopkins Depression & Anxiety Bulletin, Karen Swartz, MD, mentions a recent study that found that nursing home residents in St. Louis felt less lonely when they spent quiet time with a dog alone than when they visited with a dog and other residents.
2. Dogs alter our behavior.
Here’s a typical scenario back when we had dogs. I would come through the door in the evening and I’m annoyed. At what, I don’t know. A million little snafus that happened throughout the day. I am dangerously close to taking it out on someone. However, before I can do that, my Lab-Chow walks up to me and pats me, wanting some attention.
4. Dogs promote touch.
The healing power of touch is undisputed. Research indicates a 45-minute massage can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and optimize your immune system by building white blood cells. Hugging floods our bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and heart rates. And, according to a University of Virginia study, holding hands can reduce the stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, part of our emotional center.
5. Dogs make us responsible.
With dogs come great responsibility, and responsibility — according to depression research — promotes mental health. Positive psychologists assert that we build our self-esteem by taking ownership of a task, by applying our skills to a job. When we succeed — i.e., the dog is still alive the next day — we reinforce to ourselves that we are capable of caring for another creature as well as ourselves.
6. Dogs lower our blood pressure.
Research shows that dog owners have significantly lower blood pressure and heart rates both before and while performing stressful mental tasks — like, say, performing a family intervention or supervising kids’ homework. Blood pressure also drops when people pet dogs, especially if it’s a dog they know and love. Dog petting can also bring improvement in a person’s immune system and ease pain.