How Dogs Can Improve (or Damage) Our Mental Health: Interview with Chrissy Lawler Licensed Therapist | Pupford
October 5th, 2023
Filed under Podcasts
Dogs can play a huge role in our mental health journey. But, is it always “improvements”?!
I sat down with Chrissy Lawler, a licensed therapist, to discuss the good AND the bad parts of dogs and our mental health.
And while dogs typically provide SO much good in our lives, it’s important to understand some of the bad that can pop up.
Here is what we’ll cover in this article:
- Are there situations where dogs become a “net-negative” for someone’s mental health?
- How can having a dog impact a child’s or young adult’s mental health?
- Is it typically the responsibility of taking care of a dog that helps with depression & mental illness, or is it the dog itself?
- If someone is looking to get a dog to help improve their mental health, what should they consider when making that decision?
Let’s dive right into it! 👇
PS- I always include text recaps of the podcast episodes but you’ll get MUCH more out of this episode by watching or listening to Chrissy’s expert opinion! 😃
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MEET CHRISSY LAWLER - LMFT
She is also my sister-in-law, and I’ve found she has a powerful skill of relating complex topics in simple and digestible ways! I was very excited to sit down with her and get her expert opinion on how dogs can improve (or sometimes damage) our mental health.
Be sure to connect with her for more mental health tips on her Instagram!
Related Reading: 31 Vital Things to Know Before Getting a Dog
DOGS AND MENTAL HEALTH - A QUICK DISCLAIMER
As with anything health-related, when discussing mental health it’s important to remember that every situation is unique. So while the tips and advice here are helpful, it doesn’t mean it all will align perfectly with your mental health journey.
I strongly advise (as does Chrissy) to consult a mental health professional directly if you have questions or concerns about your mental health. Therapy can be an extremely valuable tool when dealing with depression, anxiety, or even the puppy blues (yes, it’s real)!
And now, a quick 1-question survey to explore reader opinion. ⬇️
Thanks for sharing, let’s get into Chrissy’s advice now!
CAN DOGS HURT OUR MENTAL HEALTH OR BECOME A “NET NEGATIVE”?
While most articles you find online boast all about the perks of dogs for our mental health, it can become a “net negative”.
In Chrissy’s situation, she ended up adopting a dog that didn’t really align with her family’s needs. Her Chihuaha Poodle mix ended up being only interested in her and not her 4 young daughters.
And while they tried to find solutions for some of the challenges, their dog started to turn into more of a hurt than help for their family’s mental health.
A specific example was how their dog affected her oldest daughter. Chrissy would be playing fetch with their dog and her daughter would come to join in and the dog would immediately stop playing and leave.
This started to create negative thoughts in her daughter’s head of things like ‘why doesn’t the dog like me?’ ‘what am I doing wrong?’ ‘am I not good enough for the dog?’ and other similar challenges. This small example shows how in the wrong situation, dogs can end up becoming a mental health burden.
Here are some tips Chrissy had for avoiding a dog becoming a net negative on your mental health.
- Set realistic expectations for the amount of work and effort it takes to raise a dog
- Invest in proper dog training to help raise a dog that can handle situations presented to them
- Research dog breeds heavily before choosing a dog to adopt or buy, breed fit is often one of the major reasons people become overwhelmed by their dog
- Only take on the responsibility of a dog if you have the physical, mental, and financial ability required to do so
Now that we’ve covered some of the challenges, it’s vital we discuss the positives. Because truthfully, the benefits of dogs on our mental health generally greatly outweigh the disadvantages.
HOW DO DOGS IMPACT A CHILD OR YOUNG ADULT’S MENTAL HEALTH?
In the previous section, we discussed how sometimes dogs can create stress and anxiety when challenging behaviors arise. But generally for kids and young adults, dogs are extremely beneficial for their mental health.
Here are some ways that dogs can be beneficial for children and young adult’s mental health:
- Unconditional love
- Exercise and activity
Kids and teenagers go through many ups and downs during their development and growth. For many kids, dogs can help keep make those “downs” less painful and challenging.
When kids know they have a loving dog to come home to, it can make stressful days at school less challenging.
One of the main benefits of a dog for kids’ mental health is unconditional love. Dogs have a unique gift of loving us completely, no matter what we may have done or how down we may be feeling.
And for teenagers especially, this can help foster feelings of worth and love when other parts of their life may be pushing them to feel the opposite!
Dogs can also help children and young teens learn about daily responsibility as they help with tasks like walking, feeding, training, and playing with a dog!
If you’re a parent on the fence about getting a dog for your kid, know that with patience and training, that dog can become a true friend and a vital part of your kid’s life.
IS IT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF OR THE DOG SPECIFICALLY THAT HELPS WITH MENTAL HEALTH?
While there isn’t an exact science to this, both the responsibility and the companionship of a dog can provide a boost to our mental health.
Chrissy mentioned that for some people dealing with depression, for example, knowing they need to get out of bed to provide for their dog can be a huge boost for their mental health.
That responsibility of a dog can lead you to get out on more walks, interact with other people, and have something to look forward to each day. That alone has helped many people see improvements in their mental health.
Of course, the flip side is that if you’re not quite in a mental health state to handle those things, it can become negative for your and your dogs’ life. Again, directly consult a mental health professional if you’re unsure if you have the ability to handle a dog in your home.
AND even outside of the responsibility side being helpful for mental health, dogs themselves have been shown through research to improve many aspects of our lives.
Dogs and the love they give can boost our moods, reduce stress, and even improve our heart health.
PS- Learn more about your dog's mental health here!
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE GETTING A DOG FOR MENTAL HEALTH PURPOSES
As we’ve discussed, choosing to get a dog to help improve your mental health should not be a decision made lightly. While they are typically a major benefit, it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
Here are some points/questions to consider when deciding whether to get a dog.
- Are you physically capable of giving your dog enough exercise?
- Can your finances handle things like emergency vet trips, food, etc.?
- Are you taking other steps to improve your mental health?
- Is the breed you want compatible with your lifestyle?
- Will you have the time and energy to train your puppy or dog?
Of course, that isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s important to make sure a dog is something you are capable of handling on a daily basis.
And it’s also important to note that a dog shouldn’t be seen as a “silver bullet” solution to mental health challenges. Things like therapy and medication cannot be replaced by getting a dog, only supplemented.
Related Reading: 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting a Dog
RECAP OF DOGS AND HOW THEY CAN IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Dogs have been considered man’s best friend for thousands of years! Dogs have a special way of connecting with us, loving us, and providing joy to our lives.
While dogs are typically a boost for our mental health, remember that in some cases it can have the opposite effect. So be sure to do your research on breeds and choose a dog that aligns with your specific lifestyle and needs.
If you have a dog that has started to cause you added stress because of their behavior, be sure to invest the time necessary to train your pup!
You can sign up for our 100% free (no credit card required) online dog training class, 30 Day Perfect Pup! This class covers everything from potty training to leash walking and so much in between. Sign up for free here!
And before you go, I’m curious… How has your dog improved or hurt your mental health? Tell me in the comments below!