While Amanda attributes most of this to their dog Roxy’s particularly loving personality, the truth is that dogs, in a larger sense, are also good for mental health. Study after study confirms that dogs can benefit mental health in the following ways:
1. Self-esteem and conscientiousness. This study found that pet owners have higher levels of self-esteem and conscientiousness. The authors of the paper tie this in with the increased social support pets provide, which can be of particular importance for kids with mental health issues that have an impact on their ability to socialize.
2. Exercise and endorphins. Pets—especially dogs, who require daily walks and other forms of frequent exercise with their owners—can keep their owners heart-healthy. This is great for physical health, but increased exercise also impacts the mental health of pet owners because exercise promotes mental health through multiple channels, especially with the release of endorphins.
3. Sunshine makes you feel better. It isn’t just that pets can get us to exercise, but many pets will get you outside as well. This is great for mental health because vitamin D, which comes from sunshine, can improve mental health in many ways including easing the symptoms of depression.
4. Lowered anxiety. A pet can lower anxiety levels not only in pet owners, but also in any person exposed to the pet. This relationship has been shown to benefit children—hence the programs that bring dogs into children’s hospitals as an uplifting activity.
5. Increased sense of responsibility and well-being. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Pets require a commitment to another being, which has shown to give a pet owner a sense of responsibility and an overall improved sense of well-being.
What Roxy helped Joey to do is remarkable, but it’s simultaneously unsurprising. Dogs are great emotional companions who can show us how to love in ways we didn’t know we could before. Seriously. At this very moment, my baby is pulling on my dog’s tail, and she’s returning the favor with kisses. I didn’t know before having a dog that tolerance could make me love a thing, but here I am, loving her in part for her amazing tolerance.