THURSDAY, December 16, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Dealing with the isolation, fear, and sadness of the pandemic might have been a little easier if you had a trusting and loving dog by your side.
But don’t tell Francois Martin, a researcher who studies the bonds between animals and humans. His two Great Danes have been helping him for the past two years, and he has just completed a study showing that living with a dog gave people a greater sense of social support and alleviated some of the negative psychological effects of the pandemic.
“When you ask people, ‘Why do you care about your dog? What does your dog bring you? ‘ People will say it’s camaraderie. It’s the feeling of belonging to a group that your family dog is part of. It keeps people busy, “said Martin, the section head of the Behavior and Welfare Group at Nestle Purina in St. Joseph, Missouri.” When you have a dog, you have to walk the dog, you have to train the dog. That gives you a sense of purpose.
It’s “just plain fun,” added Martin. “I don’t know anyone who is as happy as my dogs to see me every day.”
His team saw the pandemic as a unique time to better understand how dogs provide social support to their owners.
To do this, they interviewed more than 1,500 participants who had dogs or wanted dogs that were not companion animals. The survey, which was conducted in November 2020 and spring 2021, did not include owners of other types of pets as there is some evidence that different types can provide different types of support, noted Martin.
The researchers found that depression scores for dog owners were significantly lower compared to potential dog owners. The owners, too, had a much more positive attitude and commitment to pets.
The two groups had no difference in fear or happiness scores.
“In trying to measure the effects of dog ownership on depression and anxiety, for example, we found that people with little social support and who were severely affected by COVID found that their dog’s importance was greater,” said Martin.
“If you are already doing well and are not too affected by the COVID situation, having a dog is unlikely to help you become less depressed because you are not already very depressed, but we’ve seen people do that on the other end … you could measure the effect more precisely, “he remarked.
In his particular situation, Martin already had a support system and although he enjoyed having his dogs close by, it didn’t change his mood. However, it could be for someone who may have been more personally affected by the pandemic.
The study was published on December 15 in the journal PLOS One.
Pets can provide affection, company, and entertainment, said Teri Wright, a psychotherapist with her own practice in Santa Ana, California. However, this may not be the right choice for everyone.
“People ask me, ‘Do you think animals, pets, dogs are good for depression, loneliness, and psychiatric causes?’ And I say it depends because they can be a lot of stress too. So it depends on the person, “Wright said.
While Wright has a dog at home, she has a rabbit named Dusty in her office who helps out with her therapy practice. It acts as an icebreaker and helps people relax, she said.
Stanley Coren wrote a lot about dogs and spent time during the pandemic with his two, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Ranger and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Ripley.
Coren, professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, was not involved in this study.
He said differences between anxiety and depression might be why dogs had an impact on one but not the other, for participants in this study. It was possible, Coren said, that a person who petted their dog had a temporary reduction in stress or anxiety, rather than a long-term reduction.
“There are just so many fears during COVID. The dog will relieve social anxiety, but not medical anxiety or financial anxiety, ”suggested Coren.
Dogs can help reduce depression because they show unconditional positive appreciation for a person, Coren said. This can be especially helpful during times like the pandemic, especially for someone with no other social support.
“If you live alone or have minimal social support, I think a dog is a good addition to your mental health,” said Coren.
More work is needed, according to the researchers, to better understand the relationship between pet ownership, social support, and its impact on owner wellbeing.
“I think if you are a dog lover and you are able to acquire a dog and take care of him or her, it shows that you should, that dogs are actually for the general welfare of them. people contribute, ”says Martin.
The American Psychological Association has more about human-animal bonding.
SOURCES: Francois Martin, PhD, Section Leader, Behavioral and Welfare Group, Nestle Purina, St. Joseph, MO .; Teri Wright, PhD, psychotherapist, private practice, Santa Ana, California; Stanley Coren, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver; PLOS One, Dec 15, 2021