How do dogs deal with depression?

Depression and mental illness have, justifiably, become big discussion areas in recent times.  According to beyondblue, 45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime while depression is the biggest cause of disability worldwide. It’s great that we are now able to talk about these issues freely, breaking down the stigma of a life-threating ailment.

But how do dogs deal with depression? Seemingly quite well. If a dog is healthy, looked after and loved it is likely to be the happiest animal on earth.  But better than that, a dog’s unquestionable positivity can really help us humans get through some of our most troubling times.

My own experiences with depression have thankfully been short.  We all struggle at some stages in our life, some worse than others, but for me the best possible therapy was the unadulterated, unconditional love of a friend’s dog, Hobbs. Hobbs was a little bit corgi (short legs) quite a lot red heeler (solid Aussie cattle dog) and a tiny bit kangaroo (very big paws).  She was also wonderful, beautiful, happy and soulful.  Even at 12 years of age she had boundless energy and a completely happy disposition, chasing balls in the park and running like a bullet on those tiny corgi limbs. But once home from our frequent play dates, Hobbs’ soulful eyes would succumb to fatigue as she gently collapsed on my floor for a satisfying snooze.

Hobbs’ eyes told no story other than love and admiration, begging me to tire myself to the extreme by throwing the ball one last time, longing to stay and play for a little while longer or simply catching my attention when she sensed I was looking for support. She never grew tired of me, never backed away and was always pleased to see me.

Hobbs got me through some tough times and brought considerable joy to my life, but while wonderful, Hobbs’s traits are not unique. They exist in almost every dog. Break-ups from long-term relationships, redundancy, loss, misfortune or any other modern day issues can create a sense of despondency in any emotionally free-thinking human being.  Our lives are irrevocably affected by the things around us, often out of our control. But dogs?  They never change. Give them love and affection and they will return it to you tenfold, and never stop.

Dogs give. They give their time, their heart and their affection and they never ask for more in return. They are uncomplicated, agenda-free and completely in love with you. This alone can help to pacify any sense of emotional sadness, but combined with the responsibility that comes with caring for a dog, dogs do so much more.  Dogs need to be walked and fed. These necessities are simple acts of kindness, helping to bring structure to the lives of people suffering from depression in a completely positive way. And the reward for these acts of generosity?  Those loving soulful eyes and a healthier, happier lifestyle for their owner.

Dogs are also a gateway to a whole community of people who share the same sense of affection. The dog loving community is a group of positive, happy people benefiting from the love of their dogs, and if there’s two things that people suffering from depression need, it’s positive happy people and a reason to be outside.  Dogs are social, active creatures and as a result, so are their owners.  One brief walk can introduce you to a whole community of positive, decent, caring people; exactly what you need when negative thinking may begin to take a hold.

So if you are suffering from depression, why not track down a friend and borrow their pooch?  Or perhaps, register with and find a local dog in your local area who may be in need of a bit of some extra care and attention?  Dogs are the most incredible therapy. I think nothing of asking an owner to pat their dog and neither should you, there’s plenty of love to go around and dog owners are the kind of people who love to share what’s good.

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