For centuries, dogs have stood by our side, eager and willing to please their owners no matter what is asked of them. “Man’s best friend” has taken on so much more meaning in modern times as dogs have evolved from hunting partners and protectors, and are now serving as companions and full-fledged family members to their human counterparts. While still fiercely protective of their owners, dogs have become an even bigger part of the lives of many people across the world, providing support in a wide variety of ways.
While most people have heard of service animals in terms of seeing-eye dogs or other forms of guide dogs, not everyone is aware of the full spectrum of assistance that a dog can provide. Dogs also have an unmatched ability to offer support for humans who have no obvious physical limitations. People with mental disorders, like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders can benefit greatly from the companionship of a dog. Commonly referred to as Emotional Support Animals, or ESAs, these dogs are able to provide immense stress relief to their owners who are struggling with an array of “invisible illnesses.”
It can be quite impossible to tell that someone is suffering from a mental health diagnosis, but dogs are often able to see deeper than the most obvious symptoms. ESAs can be especially helpful for anyone experiencing debilitating anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and irrational fears.
At a base level, owning a dog comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility: The dog must be walked, bathed, fed, and cared for, meanwhile questions such as “can I give my dog Tylenol” need to be followed-up by research, not left to chance. For someone experiencing anxiety caring for a dog provides the perfect motivation to focus on something other than the triggers of stress. If intrusive thoughts are playing on a loop inside the mind of an anxious person, simply petting a dog, looking after her well-being, and playing a quick game of fetch is often all it takes to snap the person back to reality.
For those who struggle with depression, the unshakable feeling of worthlessness can hang over their head like a heavy cloud. The companionship that comes with owning a dog can be a great way to revive feelings of worth, love, and necessity, which depression can often push away. Many dogs simply want to be loved and cuddled, and for someone who is depressed, this can be a very comforting feeling. Tending to the dog’s needs also creates motivation for the person, restores their empathy, and can brighten their overall mood while providing therapeutic stress relief.
Having a dog in your life carries incredible value. That is what makes it increasingly important to keep your dog living a happy, healthy life. Making sure your dog is walked, cleaned up after, and taken care of can provide a great distraction for even the most anxious or depressed mind. By caring for your dog, you are also caring for yourself.
When looking for a new pet, one should not focus only on physical appearance as the deciding factor to having a companion. Value of a pet is not only measured in pedigree, but also in the ability to provide mental and emotional assistance when their owner is struggling. Just imagine the sheer weight of everyday life they can take off the shoulders of their faithful owners, and you will see why humans have chosen dogs as their lifelong companions.