5 Ways To De-Stress With Your Dog
Universities have been making headlines lately for bringing pets to campus for stressed-out students during test weeks. At the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Pet Therapy Day has been a hit for 10 years running; all 40 participating pups belong to faculty and are registered as therapy dogs. It’s not just college students who can reap the health benefits of pets – anyone with a four-legged family member has a stress-busting bundle of joy at their disposal!
Keep in mind that animals get anxiety, too. Pay attention to your pet for signs of stress or depression, such as loss of appetite, excessive licking, and avoidance of touch. Learn to interpret dog body language: a tucked tail, pinned back ears, and visible eye-whites indicate stress. Always speak in an even tone and volume to your pet – yelling only scares pups, not hammers home a point.
Try these tricks for de-stressing with your dog to keep calm and carry on.
1. Take a walk!
Experts suggest walking daily to gain a variety of physical benefits, including lowering blood pressure and reducing risk of heart disease. “Thirty minutes a day is where we see great health benefits,” says Rick Richey, a master instructor at the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “And your dog might appreciate it, too.” Conveniently enough, pups also need half an hour or more of your time, depending on their energy level and age.
Feel free to break up your walks into three 10 minute sessions throughout the day. If you have a pet-friendly workplace, take a lunchtime stroll around the parking lot. Many businesses in big cities welcome dogs; try bringing Fido along for an easier kind of running – errands!
2. Do some at-home grooming.
A big of pampering can prove relaxing for both you and your pooch, even though it may seem one-sided. Host a doggie spa day, complete with scented candles and mood lighting, followed by your own soak session. Towel off your pup and settle in for a fireside snooze ‘n’ snuggle!
Remove dead hair from your pet’s coat with a wire bristle brush, which also distributes natural oils. Dogs with longer fur may require a comb to detangle knots and prevent matting, which can have painful consequences. If your pet has sensitive skin from environmental allergies or seasonal changes, be mindful of spots that are prone to irritation, like the groin, elbows, and base of the tail.
3. Bad day? Stay in tonight – with your dog.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), pet parents have milder reactions to stress, recovering sooner than those with a fur-free household. Canine companions also had a more positive effect on mood than spouses or friends. While the hard science is in the works, researchers admit there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that therapy dogs improve emotional state.
Dr. Ann Berger, chief of the Pain and Palliative Care Service at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, has seen firsthand how chronic pain patients can benefit from animals’ presence. “I think the dogs add a bit of normalcy to a very difficult situation. The dog will sit calmly, and the patients don’t have to talk to anyone,” she says. “They can just pet. I think this helps with some of the suffering.” Human companions can be chatty; if you’re not in the mood to talk, curl up with your dog and a good book to boost your mood.
4. Pets are a great ice-‘barker’!
Social connections are key for a stress-free lifestyle, but they’re also essential to your health. A study at Tufts University found young adults who had close relationships with a pet were more community-involved and took more leadership roles. Isolation and loneliness have been called deadlier than obesity, linked to depression and impaired immune function; the mortality risk is comparable to cigarette smoking. If you’re having a hard time making a splash on the social scene, your dog is a guaranteed conversation starter!
Host doggie playdates or visit your local dog park to find canine pals for your pup, then befriend their humans. “It’s hard to walk a dog and not have someone talk to you or interact with you, compared to walking alone,” says Dr. Sandra Barker, Director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University. Strike up a conversation with other pet parents, admiring their pup’s snazzy collar or inquiring about a unique dog breed.
5. Have a heart to furry heart.
Dogs aren’t called ‘human’s best friend’ for nothing! Pets are often our closest confidants, treated like fluffy children. Animal behaviorist Takefumi Kikusui’s research explores the human-canine relationship and has uncovered some surprising results. “Our data suggest that owner-dog bonding is comparable to human parent-infant bonding, that is, oxytocin-mediated eye-gaze bonding,” he said. The chemical oxytocin is responsible for that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when staring into those puppy dog – or senior dog! – eyes; in humans, it ensures bonding between mother and infant. Kikusui believes dogs developed an ability to utilize this behavior during the domestication process, which occurred 15,000 to 30,000 years ago.
It’s been well-documented that dogs can pick up on human emotions, too, interpreting body language and cues in a manner similar to infants. That quizzical look your pup gets – often accompanied by an adorable head tilt – isn’t just a blank stare, it’s an attempt to read your state of mind. If you’re looking to get a load off your chest, sit down with your dog and tell-all. While Fido may not have any sage advice to dispense, puppy love and tail wags are just as good in our book.
(Featured image via Flickr.com/evocateur)