A dog's paw is in a person's hand.

In this blog, Coast and Country Canines Project Lead, Shona, explores the different ways that our dogs and being out in nature can affect our mental health.

The arrival of Mental Health Awareness Week has prompted me to think about how our dogs can affect our mental health. Obviously, this is a complicated topic and sometimes one that is hard for people to talk about, but there is some interesting research into dogs and humans and the positive effects we can have on each other.

A tan coloured dog enjoys being stroked by his owner.

Did you know that stroking your dog can release mood boosting hormones like oxytocin and dopamine, not just in you but also in your dog? These hormones are part of what creates such a strong, loving bond, which explains why we feel so connected to dogs and how they can truly be part of the family.

Like all of us, dogs have different personalities, so some will only want a quick ear scratch while others want cuddles all day long, but that contact is a comfort for humans and dogs. One study even suggested that playing with our dogs improves our self-esteem.

Another benefit of having dogs is that they get us out and about in nature, which is not just good for our physical health, but our mental health too. Spending time outdoors, getting that fresh air and vitamin D, as well as playing and exploring with our dogs certainly feels good and there is scientific evidence to back this up.

The National Institute of Health found ‘associations between exposure to nature and improved cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity, and sleep’. You can read more about how nature helps mental health in this blog by Bird Aware Solent Ranger, Tony: Mental Health and Nature – Bird Aware Solent.

A beagle looks up at his owner. They are in a woodland on a pathway.

Of course, there are a few potential downsides to our close relationships with dogs. Some studies suggest that if a dog has health problems or behaviour issues, it can lead owners to report worse mental health. This is pretty understandable!

Struggling with behaviour issues can be very stressful, and if we love our dogs, seeing them ill or distressed is always going to be hard. So, it is important to remember this and reach out for advice and comfort if we are ever feeling down.

If you need help with behaviour issues, then we recommend seeking a qualified behaviourist or trainer, and you can always check out our training guides. Even if you are on the way to fixing things, it can always help to talk about your problems with others.

In fact, talking to people we meet out on our walks is one of the aspects of dog ownership that is positively correlated with owners having good mental health. So let’s get chatting!

Two women walk together in the countryside

Mental health is a notoriously hard thing to study – it often relies on people to self-report and can fluctuate so much. But one thing that seems consistent is that getting out with our dogs, engaging with them, nature and other people, is all very likely to boost our mood.

So, making the most of our walks and the nature we find ourselves in is good for our physical and mental wellbeing. We have loads of advice here at Coast and Country Canines on having fun, engaging and wildlife aware dog walks, and we hope that you and your dog enjoy many happy walks together.

If you would like to meet like-minded dog owners for a walk in nature, visit our events page and book your place on our next Guided Waggy Walk.