With numerous restrictions in place, many people find it difficult to cope with stress related to work, family and everyday duties. Such pressure often causes feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. However, research has shown that owning a pet can have a positive impact on the mental health of caregivers during these challenging times and beyond.
A short history of the dog-human relationship
Dogs and humans have always lived close to each other, which is primarily due to the course of evolution in both species. In times when our ancestors led a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, some wolves may have approached their habitats, encouraged by food scraps left by humans.
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Why are dogs the perfect companions of humans?
Nowadays, puppies come into close contact with humans right after birth, which generally makes them feel safe and comfortable with us. The bond that develops between dogs and their owners is so strong because they spend a lot of time together.
Caring for a living being with specific needs can help give meaning to everyday life, especially for those living alone during the coronavirus pandemic. Dogs are also able to interpret the communication signals we send them and can recognize when something is wrong. They often adapt their behavior to the mood of the caregiver, which in some cases can help to reduce the stress we feel.
Accompanying humans for thousands of years, dogs have learned to recognize our intentions, attitudes, gestures, looks, and probably also our emotions.
Is a dog good for stress?
Given the current pandemic and local restrictions, the social benefits of owning a dog can have a positive impact on the lives of many families. The dog is also an irreplaceable companion for people who live alone.
Close physical contact with animals can bring great emotional relief to their owners. Hugging and stroking a dog, playing with it, and even just watching it helps to get rid of tension, calms and de-stresses, which is especially important in these difficult times. It can also be comforting to know that your dog is always with you, no matter what time of day or night.
How else do dogs affect our mental health?
During the process of dog domestication, individuals endowed with pedomorphic (“childish”) features were more willingly selected for further breeding, because their appearance from the human point of view is more attractive. Their eyes and head are generally quite large in relation to the rest of their body, and they are able to look a human straight in the eye. Studies have shown that it is this ability to exchange glances that can cause an increase in the level of oxytocin in both the human and dog bodies. Oxytocin, also known as the attachment hormone, for lowering the heart rate, which may translate into feeling positive emotions.
Regular walks with the dog
Daily walks with the dog, provided that they take place in accordance with local restrictions and social distancing rules, give you the opportunity to get some fresh air, exercise and meet friends who keep other pets. This can help relieve the stress and anxiety we feel about the current situation, and allows the dog to discharge excess energy.
All dogs need exercise and opportunities to explore the terrain. Whilst it is recommended that dogs be walked at least twice a day, this may not be possible due to local restrictions.
Regular walks are also an excuse to leave the house where most of us, due to the current pandemic, now spend much more time than usual.
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Responsibility of the dog’s guardian
Owning a dog is a big responsibility and a big financial commitment for many people. Daily care of a pet can also be time-consuming. However, taking on this responsibility is good for our mental health because it creates numerous opportunities to interact with people, including with groomers, veterinarians and other dog handlers, and this, in turn, can help fight the feeling of loneliness.
The duties resulting from having a dog introduce a certain order to the schedule of the day. During these difficult times, ordinary activities such as going to work and socializing have changed dramatically and in some cases even disappeared altogether. The daily routine of caring for a dog gives a sense of purpose and purpose, which can be a way to lift the mood for many of us.