Here’s How Dogs Can Lend You a Helping Paw When it Comes to Your Mental Health


Puppies of Karben Golden Retrievers from the 2021 litter. These golden pups were born in early summer of 2021, and the litter got to visit an Accel English 10 class on the last day of school at HB and spread happiness all around with their fluffy faces and happy tail wags. “I feel that dogs are very beneficial to the health of people because they are loving, and crave human companionship,” said Leslie Costigan, a local Labrador Retriever Breeder.

Katelyn Seamonds, Staff Writer

If there is one thing that almost everyone in the world can agree on, it is the fact that puppies radiate happiness and joy. With one look at their adorable fluffy faces and gleaming eyes, you can feel your worries fading and a baby voice taking over your normal speech. Dogs seem to embody sunshine, and as soon as their paws come padding over for a pet or a cuddle it seems as if all the stress in the world melts away. Well, what if there is actually some truth to this statement? According to a study done by Stress and Health, dogs can actually reduce the amount of stress a person has.

In 2018, Stress and Health ran a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, which experimented on the mental health benefits of being around a dog. The study surveyed over 200 students before, and after interacting with dogs. “The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a controlled group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session,” said The University of British Columbia (UBC). Professor Stanley Coren of UBC, “found that, even 10 hours later students still reported slightly less negative emotion.” 

Dogs are able to be this beneficial to humans mental health because of their loving nature. As Leslie Costigan, a long-time local dog breeder puts it, “they [dogs] crave human companionship.” Costigan, who has been breeding Golden Retrievers and Labradors for over 20 years, is a firm believer in the positive mental health effects that dogs can offer. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that your dog loves you unconditionally and would do anything for you,” Costigan said. Stress only seems to increase in our lives as we get older. Especially as a teenager, it feels easy to slip into a routine of school, work, phone, sleep. “Having a pet gets you out into the world… a new pet can redirect one’s energy and focus. Dogs need fresh air, playtime, [and] exercise” said Allison Detelich, a Massachusetts Veterinarian. All of the needs a dog has can push someone to escape this endless circle of routine and put their focus towards something to care for and love.

Dogs provide wonderful companionship and love for anyone who is simply having a rough day, to those who suffer mental health problems, anxiety, and even PTSD. Mental Health America even found that owning a dog can help alleviate the symptoms of various mental health problems that “adversely affects more than 250,000 (30 percent) of post 9/11 war veterans, with an alarming 22 suicides per day.” Meaning that the presence of a dog in a veteran’s life can possibly prevent health risks from occurring. Costigan herself has even sold two puppies from previous litters to go to this cause, “[Training for emotional support dogs] usually requires a period of substantial training to have a puppy that will become a service dog. There are agencies that breed for certain qualities, and have very experienced trainers for the dog,” said Costigan. 

According to The Official Support Dog, Therapy Dog, and Emotional Support Animal Registry, the best qualities for emotional support dogs are recognised by being very intelligent, loving, and obedient. The Registry recommends breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, the Pembroke Welsh Terrier, as well as a few others, as the best breeds for an emotional support dog. “If you are adopting or purchasing a pet to support your mental health, realize that it is not just about you. That pet has emotional and physical needs as well. The breed must be appropriate for one’s lifestyle and you must have the time and resources to care for that pet appropriately,” said Detelich. 

It still must be recognised that although dogs are a wonderful resource to help people through mental health issues, they are still animals and they will still be a person’s pet. To own an emotional support dog, the person must be able to care for the dog as it will care for them.

It must also be mentioned that not everyone is a fan of dogs, or for whatever reason, dogs may not be the best choice for a person. Both Costigan and Detelich have said that cats can also provide a similar comfort to owners. “Cats have a similar effect with their owners, but they are more aloof. A cat doesn’t particularly care that you play with them, but will snuggle up on your lap (on their own terms),” said Costigan. Cats provide a way to improve health for someone that may not be able to be as active as owning a dog requires you to be. Detelich said something similar about owning a cat, saying, “the physical and social interaction with the pet is different and also from a practicality standpoint, having a dog requires an owner to physically leave the house daily.” Although dogs and cats are known for their contrasting personalities, both pets can provide significant companionship and happiness to their owners.

One last alternative for those who are unable to take care of a pet, is the website Teen Health & Wellness. The website provides free “visual relaxation” for viewers, which is essentially different livestreams of animals, nature, and more. This is an easy and fun way to reduce stress and anxiety without spending any money. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and spending some time with a loving animal could be the perfect way to reduce stress.