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Dogs for Mental Wellbeing

Raffi is a three year old poodle dachshund cross – a doxiepoo- but is also the family’s Head of Welfare. He’s earned this honourable title because he has a knack of lifting people up when they feel down and intuiting what they need at that moment.

This usually comes in the form of selecting one of his much loved toys and handing it over in the same way a parent will snuggle a sick child into bed with a favourite teddy.

When he does this to me he watches for my reaction and if I don’t seem to thrilled with the well-mouthed fluffy toy with most of its stuffing ripped out, he quietly pads back to his stash and selects another.

When we bond with our dogs during the many hours we spend playing with them, fussing them and walking them, our brains release the feel good chemical, oxytocin. All pets, but especially dogs, are a great source of comfort and companionship, especially for anyone living alone. Stroking a pet alleviates stress and has an immediate calming effect and if we have something to get up for in a morning, it gives us meaning to our lives.

Dogs are great at encouraging us to get exercise whatever the weather. Fresh air, being out in nature is good for mental health especially low mood and anxiety. Raffi senses the moment it’s time for “walkies” and will dash into the hall where his lead and hi-viz jacket are waiting.

Being out and about with a dog offers an easy opportunity to be sociable. Raffi is a friendly dog and wants to play with others. I find myself stroking whippets, huskies and dachshunds before I’ve said a word to their owner. We do the dog talk, move onto the weather and I often find myself engaged in longer conversations and on occasions being invited for coffee.

Not all dog owners as approachable though. I tend to read their facial expression letting Raffi launch in. There are times when I prefer to wander in solitude, dog at heel and not have to do the small talk.

When I’m writing, Raffi is happy to sit on the sofa and snooze. I chat to him about a character or an idea and if he opens one eye it’s a sign of approval. People say dogs don’t understand or talk, but I beg to differ. Raffi has a vocabulary of about ten words, most of them involve food but the one he protests is “bed.”

Pets give us so much love and it’s a great feeling to come home and see his tail wagging away like a windscreen wiper. Having responsibility for a pet means being less focused on your own problems, just for a while.

Not everyone is in a position to have a pet, especially a dog, but Borrow My Doggy is a website which connects owners to responsible dog sitters. Animal shelters are often looking for volunteers and it’s always worth putting a card in the window of your local newsagent or post office to offer dog walking services.

Dogs are our everyday heroes. They offer us unconditional love and can have an enormous impact on our mental wellbeing. If they’re anything like Raffi, they’ll always be there for you.