If only I was aware of the health benefits of having a dog, I may have embarked on the experience a lot sooner. Having recently acquired my very own canine friend, I am beginning to understand how dog owners far and wide come to see their pet as their most trusted and loyal companion and source of comfort. Whilst raising a puppy has its challenges such as house training a puppy to go to the toilet outside as opposed to indoors! For me the pleasures certainly outweigh the trials. I love that each time I get home she is there to greet me and does so with such love and enthusiasm. That I need never be on my own if I don’t want to and that caring for a dog is an entirely new experience for me; from vet appointments to buying food and home supplies, but one which I am enjoying learning about.
Research investigating the therapeutic benefits of having a dog has described touch as being one of the most basic human desires a dog can fulfil. Petting and cuddling a dog can help a person to remain calm and is particularly soothing if one is feeling stressed. Having a dog for companionship can ease feelings of loneliness whilst also providing stimulation to exercise. This can result in a person feeling fitter and of better mental health.
Exercise helps to release ‘feel good’ endorphins helping to ward off feelings of sadness and depression. Whilst I might have been able to put off going to the gym several times a week particularly in winter; knowing I have a dog that is dependent on me for its exercise means I at least go for a thirty minute walk every day even if that’s the extent of my daily exercise.
When walking my dog I have experienced an increase in the number of people who say hello. From fellow dog owners to people who simply want to stop and take a moment to pet her. For anyone who is perhaps feeling lonely and living on their own, having a dog can introduce new opportunities to socialise and interact with others therefore helping to reduce feelings of depression and loneliness. Having something else to focus on can provide a person with a welcome distraction from personal problems. Caring for a dog provides such a distraction and if cared for properly will reward their owner with unconditional love and affection as I have discovered.
Depending on the breed of dog, some dogs make great therapy dogs. Cavaliers are one such breed and were originally bred to provide comfort and companionship to many kinds of people including the sick and the elderly. Throughout America in particular, using dogs in therapy for children with Autism is becoming increasingly popular. Studies have shown that dogs can have a calming effect on children with Autism improving a child’s ability to communicate and bond.
It is important to remember however that having a dog requires considerable commitment and dedication to ensure it is well cared for. I waited a long time to get a dog until I was able to work flexible hours to ensure I would be able to manage the demands. Such demands include feeding a puppy four times a day initially. Of course for anyone considering getting a dog there is help and support available from dog day care services to training classes and there is the option of getting an older dog that is already house trained if having a puppy feels too daunting.
‘The Happy Puppy Handbook’ by Pippa Mattinson