Years ago I owned a dog named Sparkles. He was a cross between a Cocker Spaniel, Poodle and Beagle. Sparkles loved to play and he was a very affectionate animal. He lived for 13 years. I don't know what it is about dogs but they definitely can sense when their masters are experiencing a problem. Sparkles was no exception. I remember Sparkles fondly because it was he who got me through some of the worst battles I had had with clinical depression, if only for a short amount of time. If you suffer from clinical depression, I'm sure you can appreciate the fact that even some relief from the emotional grip that depression can have on you is better than none at all.
Thinking about my time with Sparkles motivated me to do some research on the therapeutic effects that animals, particularly dogs, can have on people with clinical depression. What I found was extremely interesting and I'd like to share some of that information with you. If you suffer from depression, especially clinical depression., I'm sure you'll find this enlightening.
Scientists have spent a considerable amount of time studying animals, particularly dogs, and their therapeutic effect on individuals with physical and emotional issues. So if you enjoy dogs, please consider the following 5 therapeutic benefits of dog therapy on clinical depression:
1. Provides unconditional love and affection - Nothing that I know of can elevate a person's mood more than to be loved and accepted unconditionally. I don't know of any human being who could offer the amount of unconditional love, not to mention patience, like a dog can. Whenever I'd come home and no matter what mood I was in, Sparkles was always glad to see me. The minute I'd sit down, he'd jump up on my lap and lick at my face. Then he'd look at me with those "I love you daddy "eyes and he'd want to play. How could I not feel better after that? Treat your dog right and you'll enjoy every minute of the experience.
2. Redirects cognitive focus - Fortunately it is impossible for us to have depressive and positive thoughts at the same time. Owning a dog creates a sense of responsibility. Any positive experience with your dog such as feeding, cuddling, walking, and playing will create a cognitive shift from depressed thoughts to a more positive focus on your dog. It was primarily during play time with Sparkles that I felt the best because I gave him my full attention.
3. Increases physical activity - One of the best exercises if not the best exercise for depression is walking. Walking naturally elevates our mood. Dogs need to be walked and of course Sparkles was no exception. In fact, Sparkles, like most dogs, loved to be walked. I usually walked Sparkles three times a day. When I felt especially depressed, I walked him more than that. The combination of walking plus refocusing my thoughts on Sparkles really helped me to suppress my depressive symptoms. It can work for you as well.
4. Reduces isolation - Very few things in life are certain. One thing that is absolutely certain however is that as long as your dog is alive, he will always be your constant companion. Before Sparkles became part of our family, I would usually withdraw and isolate myself from everyone, including my wife,.whenever I had a depressive episode. If you have depression, I'm sure you may be all too familiar with loneliness and withdrawal. Believe me, having a dog around will change that. Once Sparkles arrived, my loneliness virtually disappeared and I isolated myself less frequently. After all, my wife enjoyed playing with the dog too, so we were able to do that together.
5. Reduces feelings of personal worthlessness - Once you own a dog, any feelings of personal worthlessness you might have felt during a depressive episode, should begin to erode, at least to some extent, rather quickly. After all, your dog will depend on you for virtually everything. That dependence should create a sense of purpose because you'll feel needed.
You've probably realized by now, that in order to enjoy the therapeutic effects of a dog, or any animal for that matter, you must like being around animals. Further, any animal that can be held, petted, or cuddled, can provide you with just about the same therapeutic effects as a dog.
Now, please don't run out and get a puppy or dog right away. If you do seriously consider getting a dog, I would suggest that you take the time to volunteer at your local animal shelter. If you have a relative or friend with a dog, ask to dog sit for awhile. That way you'll have a better idea of what it's like to have a dog as a buddy and companion.