The benefits of dogs for our mental health22 December 2022
Written by Dr Becky Prince, GP, MA (Cantab) MB/BChir DRCOG DFSRH MRCGP PGDip. Clin. Psych (Dist.)
Reviewed by Dr Jill McMaster BVM&S MBA MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon and in-house expert at BorrowMyDoggy on 8 June 2023
Lockdown was tough for most of us. Whether it was worries about the virus itself, lengthy homeschooling, not being able to spend time with loved ones, adapting to working from home, the list could go on almost endlessly; we all have our own stories on what made lockdowns challenging.
Sadly, we are now hearing the negative effect the pandemic has had on our mental wellbeing. With 76% of people in the UK describing themselves as stressed, and 60% of adults stating that their mental health has deteriorated during lockdown, we need to find ways to improve this situation.
It’s no secret that the team at BorrowMyDoggy, like millions of others throughout the country, love spending time with dogs!
Whether it’s walks, cuddles or playtime, we just love being with our furry friends.
The relationships we have with dogs can give us so many benefits, not least for our mental health and wellbeing, with 74% of people stating that their pet has helped their mental health throughout the pandemic.
How do dogs benefit our mental wellbeing
So the question is, how do dogs benefit our mental wellbeing?
Dr Becky Prince of Dr Morton’s – the medical helpline – talks about the health benefits of dogs in this short clip:
Lots of cuddles
Giving our dogs a cuddle is proven to reduce stress levels, trust us, it’s a scientific fact!
A study produced by Washington State University, found that petting an animal for ten minutes, reduces the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) in saliva.
Dogs are so great, that interacting or even just staring into their beautiful puppy dog eyes can produce a 300% increase in oxytocin (happy hormone) levels, which can play a part in stress reduction, lowering blood pressure and providing mental health benefits.
So having a lovely hug with a pooch is actively encouraged to improve our wellbeing, and chances are they will love it too!
The majority of dogs need regular walks, and for that to happen we need to go outside and take them.
This gets us away from our desks, out in the fresh air and moving, motivated by our trusty canine companions.
Studies show an improvement in mental wellbeing, even from a simple twenty minute walk to a local park!
Being outside in nature has benefits on everything from improving moods, reducing stress, improving confidence, self-esteem and physical fitness, to showing positive effects on more severe issues including anxiety, depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder by providing natural light benefits.
So whether you’re going for a short walk to the park or a big run in the countryside, you can enjoy some pawsome improvements to your mental wellbeing, and access to a dog provides that motivation to do it regularly with some cuddly company!
Going out with a dog can be a great way to physically interact with local people, which is much more fun than seeing heads and shoulders on a laptop screen.
Whether your pup is playing with a Poodle in the park, or a neighbour is looking longingly at your Lurcher, dogs can generate conversations.
With 75.2% of people saying they felt more socially isolated now more than before the pandemic, this is the time to make connections in your local community.
As a borrower with BorrowMyDoggy you can make a connection that is not only a great way to make dog friends, but also life-long friendships with their owners, just like Cedric’s borrower Isabel who
always expected to make some wonderful doggy friends, but… also made some human friends through borrowing.
As for dog owners, as well as getting help with their dog, they get the added bonus of making a real-life human connection like Orca’s owner Claire from Liverpool who described BorrowMyDoggy as
a local community of friendly caring people (and has) met some lovely neighbours including someone who only lives five doors up.
So whether as an owner or borrower, there are great opportunities to find friendships through the love of dogs.
You get to meet people from all around your area and it builds a community. We’ve become friends with our borrower, who lives just across the street.
- Maggie, BorrowMyDoggy owner
5 things you didn't know about the power of dogs
We might just think of dogs as fluffy friends, rather than connecting them to key KPIs for our teams like focus, time management, stress-relief, and improving mental health which is extremely important in today’s flexi-working world. But there is more of a connection than you think…
BorrowMyDoggy owner, Lily, talks us through her experience of dog ownership and work.
I got a dog 11 months ago, it wasn’t a rash decision, it was a calculated step, and being at home during COVID meant I had the most time to train her to be a well behaved adult (the old commute didn’t lend itself to having a dog around). But the world is changing, whether companies like it or not, and 11% of the UK has got a pet in the last year
My pup Rhubarb brought me many things… From tears of joy to tears of frustration (they do say it’s like having a kid for a reason) but more than anything I’ve noticed some unexpected benefits, that have had a huge impact on my work life, entirely for the better, and shows that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of dogs.
How can dogs impact your work positively?
- TIME MANAGEMENT: I’m not someone who naturally likes a routine, I’ve struggled to get up out of bed when the alarm is blaring, and am the kind of person who can never decide if she’s a morning or evening shower person, but a dog is an immediate, reinforced structure to my day. It’s clarity in the seemingly endless monotony of lockdown. She has to go to the potty in the morning, I have to tear myself from my screen at lunch to give her a walk, and at the end of the day, she needs me again. This means that when I’m working, my eyes are glued to the screen. I’m making the best use of my time, it’s precious and limited - procrastinator no more.
- FOCUS: I’m very curious what everyone’s “not stepped one foot outside the front door” record has been over the past year. Before I got Rhubarb mine was three days. It’s safe to say going from pyjama trousers to joggers doesn’t inspire the mind, since having Rhubarb however, the fashion conscious side of me is forced to change for public appearances, not to mention the access to sunlight (sometimes...it’s still England after all). Upping my steps game has meant an overall increase in focus when I’m back in the house, it’s naturally diversifying my daily activities, just by adding a four-legged friend. In fact dog owners average 3,000 more steps per day, making Fitbits and Apple Watches sing.
- SHUSHING “SHEILA”: Let’s call the annoying voice of doubt and anxiety in your head Sheila, she’s rather persistent, and she is constantly focused on worst case scenarios: “What if you get COVID? What if that person who sneezed when they passed you gave you COVID”. Yeah, Sheila is rather annoying (no hard feelings if you are called Sheila!) and though maybe somewhat valid, she’s largely unhelpful. While we all have these thoughts that plague our minds and make us miserable, there is a kind of magic that having a dog around can cast on them, you simply don’t have enough time to focus on them, they aren’t so persistent, you aren’t so focused on them, all because your furry friend demands your attention much of the day, and keeps you company in the quiet moments, making them not quite as tough.
- SMALL TALK BECOMES LARGE TALK: I’m the first to say that small talk can drain you. However, in the past year the absence of people has meant firstly, I’d love a little more small talk in my life, and actually when you have a dog, small talk quickly progresses into lasting relationships with people locally and colleagues alike. When we first started visiting the park with Rhubarb, it was mainly chat about her age, breed and temperament with other owners, but after the fifth or sixth time you see them, that progresses into chats about life in lockdown, job updates, and eventually exchanging numbers to coordinate park visits and checking in on each other. It’s a sense of community I couldn’t have expected before having a dog in London of all places.
- ADDED JOY TO THE MOST MUNDANE OF DAYS: There’s something beautiful about dogs in their randomness, their silly antics, the way they howl when certain songs play, or their silly sleeping positions that looks about as comfortable as trying to sleep in the middle of performing a contortionist’s act in the circus. They add purpose to our walks, tranquility to our down time and passion to our interactions with other people. It’s safe to say that we largely miss out on that in our lives apart from the adorable randomness you also see in young children, however dogs maintain that wonder and silliness throughout their lives, adding colour, joy and magic to your life - quite literally making them a reason to get up in the morning.
This is not to say that it doesn’t take A LOT of work to have a dog, because it does. However, the benefits of having or borrowing a dog have huge impacts on your life, many of which don’t eliminate the difficulties of swimming through life, but rather feels like the equivalent of giving you a nice set of floaties to lighten the load.”
So as we look back on this tough year in lockdown, a lot of us have concerns about our mental wellbeing and the effects of social isolation. It is important to look after yourself and your employees, and use all the means available to improve the situation we are in. Spending time with dogs is a tangible way to improve mental wellbeing, and our barky buddies will show us wags of appreciation!
It’s safe to say dog’s bring a bright light into our lives, and not just our personal ones. Interested in the benefits of BorrowMyDoggy as an employee benefit? Learn more and register your interest by contacting us directly at email@example.com
Thinking about getting a dog? Read our Should I get a dog? article first!
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