Why Your Pet Is So Important To Your Mental Health

Many people consider their pets an extension of their family. The love that owners have for their animals isn’t something that should be underestimated, and neither should the benefits of that bond. From better moods to lowered anxiety, pets can be absolutely vital to your mental health.

Lowered Stress

Stress can wreak havoc upon your mental health and sense of well-being. It can make everything seem much more dire than it really is, and leave you at an increased risk for things like depression and anxiety. It’s a serious issue to combat – and it turns out that pets can help lead the charge. According to the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, in a study conducted in conjunction with other similar associations, owning a pet can actually help diminish symptoms of stress on a long-term basis.

Relieves Anxiety

There are many different ways that a dog can serve as a great companion animal. For many, just petting or cuddling with a dog can help to fight anxiety disorders. Keith Humphreys, a professor of Psychology and Behavior Studies, admits, “Holding and stroking a dog is calming for many people, even those without anxiety problems.” No matter what the issue is that is keeping you down, cuddling with your pet is sure to help!

Better Sleep

Sleep is important to both physical and mental health, and it can be particularly difficult to achieve quality sleep when you’re not in the right headspace. Did you know that sleeping with your pet could help? Many people find that they feel more comforted and secure with their pet in room than they do without them. If you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, consider sharing some space with your pet to see if it helps. While it doesn’t prove effective for everyone, especially if you have a particularly rambunctious pup, owners are often surprised at how much their pet’s presence can help.

More Exercise

Living a healthy life is important to your physical health as well as your mental health, however it’s a particularly difficult goal to achieve sometimes. Pet owners are more likely than other people to get some form of exercise daily, especially walking, and generally live healthier lives that are less sedentary as a result. This, in turn, helps boost mental health and offer coping mechanisms to handle stress.

Owning a dog is a rewarding experience, but the confirmation that owning one can help with your mental health is relatively new. Make sure to give your pup a treat the next time you see them!

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We all want wonderfully behaved dogs, but it doesn’t happen on its own just because we wish it.  It takes time and effort to create the kind of dog and relationship you want. Here are some basic principles that can help you have a better behaved dog.

  • Have realistic expectations about your dog. No matter how good your dog is, things will get peed on, chewed or scratched/dug up. Barking / meowing, door dashing and/or pulling on the leash can happen with even the best animal.  Accept the fact that dogs are living beings and not china dolls to sit in the corner.  If you have a dog, some time during his/her life, you will loose something of value. 
  • To change behavior you have to be patient and persistent.  Change will not happen over night.  Sometimes it can take weeks or months to change behavior.  The more time you spend and the more often you work with your dog the quicker the change. Despite what some books say, most puppies can’t be housetrained in 7 days.
  • Recognize and meet your dog’s behavioral needs.  Dogs have needs for exercise, social contact with people and other animals and mental stimulation. Problem-solving toys, can provide mental stimulation. Games such as ‘find the hidden object’ and events such as agility can provide all three. 
  • Make it easy for your dog to do the right thing.  Arrange the environment so that the behavior you want is easily produced. The more often desirable behavior happens the stronger it becomes. For example, minimize distractions when you’re trying to teach your dog something new. Put scratching posts where they are easy for your cat to find and use. 
  • Make it difficult for your dog to do the wrong thing.  Arrange the environment so it is hard for your dog to make mistakes.  The more often unwanted behavior happens the harder it is to change.  Close the blinds to keep your dog from barking at those that pass by.  Scoop out your cats’ litter boxes every day.
  • Realize that animals don’t do things out of spite, for revenge or just to make your life miserable. They do what works – that is, what meets their behavioral needs, gets them rewards or allows them to escape or avoid bad things. They sometimes do some things because they are ill.  Dogs counter surf because they occasionally hit the jackpot of a sandwich or chicken leg.  Cats sometimes pee out of the box because they are sick even when they don’t act sick.
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The two most important things to remember are to always praise your dog when they come to you – and set yourself up for success.

  • Teach your dog that ‘Come’ means – run to me, there’s a party over here!
  • Never say ‘Come’ when you think your dog may not do it
  • Only call your dog to come when you KNOW you can make them, not hope that they will
  • Always balance distance and distractions for level of difficulty – ie, work at a level where your dog can be successful.  If there are distractions, work at a short distance away.  If there are no distractions, you can be farther away
  • Do not call your dog to ‘Come’ for anything she doesn’t like
  • Never call your dog in anger
  • Call your dog only once – and then make her come or walk away
  • Always praise and reward your dog for coming to you- make sure you reward and praise a lot!! (a full 20 seconds of petting for example)
  • Never punish your dog for coming to you – even if it takes awhile for him to get there.
  • Never chase after your dog
  • Get your dog to chase you if you don’t have control
  • Practice first indoors with no distractions
  • Use a food lure at dog’s nose and walk backwards to start the behavior
  • Practice “Find It” and “Hide and Seek” to train the recall
  • Practice calling ‘Come’ for mealtimes and for walks
  • Practice 10 times on each outdoor leash walk (intersperse walking backwards and calling your dog)
  • Gradually add distractions and different locations
  • Practice outside on a long line –first with no distractions, then add distractions
  • Use high value food rewards when practicing outside
  • Don’t expect to get from kindergarten to graduate school quickly – this takes time!!
  • Practice “Gotcha” so your dog is used to having its collar grabbed
  • Say name first, make sure you have attention, and then call Come
  • Praise your dog as they come to you
  • Do NOT repeat the command
  • If your dog does not come, go get him, show him the treat he missed out on and eat it yourself (make sure it is edible by you), making a huge deal over how good it was.  Repeat if necessary but this should work for independent dogs.
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