Home Mental Health & Well-Being I Enjoy the Company of My Labrador – Here Are the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

I Enjoy the Company of My Labrador – Here Are the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

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Everyone knows that a pet can help you stay calm, relax, and be more focused. Well, at least anyone who has or has ever had a pet. For those who haven’t had a pet, maybe your lives are so busy you don’t have time? When I was that busy, in my 20s, I had a little goldfish; well six of them. Just watching them swim about, pecking at the weed or worm blocks, was soothing. My grandparents had a dog – a Labrador. My other grandparent had a poodle.

Most dogs are gregarious by nature – it’s the pack mentality. They will look to you, their owner, as the pack leader. They will love and respect you because it’s bred into them to do so. They will, given the chance, lick your face and hands to show that they know they are the follower, and you are their pack leader. There are many similarities between dogs and wolves. Modern dogs have been bred to be workers and companions to humans. Most have a good nature and, providing they’re looked after properly, fed and exercised well, they’ll prove to be a most loyal and loving companion.

Labradors are officially the UK’s most popular breed of dog. They are known to be friendly, loving, sociable and a great talking point. Any dog can be a social beacon. Most people you meet are keen to meet the dog, talk about the dog, reminisce about their dog. Even in these trying times (COVID-19), random people will smile, stop, and talk if you have a dog with you.

When I feel stressed, my dog feels stressed; she’ll be close or underfoot. If I’m upset, she’ll come and lean against me. If I leave the room, she’ll follow me. If I leap up suddenly (having forgotten something) she’ll leap up, bark and run ahead of me (usually getting underfoot). She once lost me while out for a walk. In the middle of the park, I kept saying: ‘come on, this way, come on’. She had her nose in a wonderful scent and was paying no attention. She looked up suddenly and realised I was missing, she spun round and round frantically then ran for the entrance/exit of the park. I had to yell rather loudly to her before she heard me and came running over, wagging her tail and nosing me with relief and excitement. Nowadays, she pays a bit more attention, and although she wanders off to sniff at things, she’s kept one ear on me for change of direction when I call to her ‘come on, this way.’

Some things she’s really smart at doing. Keeping on the path, whether footpath, grass or pavement, waiting for me if I cross the road to deposit the smelly bag in the bin then crossing back over to her, crossing the road with me or without me – sometimes I have to remind her, but she will do it.

There are some things she’s not so good at. Catching the tennis ball – nine times out of ten it hits her on the nose as she opens her mouth. Fetching the ball back after it’s been thrown; the only time she’ll do that is if you’re sitting on a bench or chair, then she’ll drop it nearby and ping it with her front paws. I’ve videoed her bouncing a football back as it’s thrown to her, her mouth open to try and catch it. Doesn’t she realise it’s too big? I know, she’s just trying to get her mouth around it – she’s not really stupid.

It’s not that she does anything special. She’s just there – if I want to cuddle her, stroke her, play with her, go for a walk, go in the garden or the garage – she’s there, eager to go, to be with me. If I go in the kitchen to make tea, I’ll stroke her head in passing or talk to her if she’s laying off to one side. Her ears prick, her tail wags once or twice. Someone once said to me: ‘she’s a small part of our world, but we’re her whole world.’ How true this is, for most pets.

She was given to me 18 months after my husband died, and I didn’t realise then what a difference she’d make in my life. OK – not everything went smoothly from the first. At five months old, she was very slow to house-train, not helped of course by my being at work four days a week. Those days I wasn’t at work became very focused on her, breakfast for us both, out for a walk, socialisation with other dogs in the field nearby where we met other dog-walkers and a variety of dogs. At first, I knew them as the dog’s owner – so Max’s owner or Molly’s owner – but I came to know the owners fairly well. The dogs were the key to a conversation with virtual strangers.

If you have the time, at least a couple of spare hours in the day, it’s well worth getting a dog. They are a tie, so bear in mind that those couple of hours must be ongoing, not just while you’re stuck at home with Covid all around. When I say a couple of hours, you might take a dog out for an hours walk in the morning, but you must then allow more time during the day to have a play, throw the ball in the garden, go down to the local shop with other family members and one of you waits outside while the other goes in. Rolling the ball round the floor indoors (never throw it indoors I’ve learned – you might get the throw right, but if she bounces it up it can hit something breakable like the TV or Xbox or spill your coffee) on a rainy day, she waits for it and pounces. What fun!

I even plan holidays that are dog-friendly. I know plenty of people who put their dogs in kennels while they go on holiday. You can do this of course, but research carefully those kennels and go by recommendations, so you can find a good place that will look after your dog properly. I haven’t trusted my dog to a kennel yet, but I haven’t needed to, so I don’t have to worry about now. I know she whines when I’m not around and greets me eagerly when I’m back.

Next time I’ll get a rescue dog, but not yet. One dog is enough for me and, for now, she is my priority, and I am her priority.  She keeps me sane, and hopefully I keep her sane.

Susan Butler is an editor for Psychreg. She is passionate about finding ways to lead more balanced lives and improve overall health and well-being.


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