The Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic: Dogs

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Written by Cara Murez
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, December 16, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Facing s isolation, fear and sadness of pandemic it might have been a little easier if you had a dog of trust and love with you.

But you don’t need to tell that to Francois Martin, a researcher who studies the connections between animals and humans. His two Great Danes have helped him in the last two years, and he has just completed a study showing that living with a dog has given people a stronger sense of social support and mitigated some of the negative psychological effects of the pandemic.

“When you ask people, ‘Why is your dog important to you? What does your dog bring you?’ People will say it’s socializing. It’s a sense of belonging to a group that includes your family dog. It preoccupies people, “said Martin, who is the head of the behavior and welfare group department at Nestle Purina in St. Louis. Joseph, Mo. “If you have a dog, you have to walk it, you have to training dog. It gives you a sense of purpose.

“It’s just fun,” Martin added. “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 so, they surveyed more than 1,500 participants who had dogs or wanted dogs that were not labeled as auxiliary animals. The survey, conducted in November 2020 and spring 2021, did not include owners of other types of pets because there is evidence that different species can provide different types of support, Martin noted.

Researchers have found that depression the results were significantly lower for dog owners compared to potential dog owners. The owners also had a much more positive attitude towards pets and their commitment.

The two groups had no differences in anxiety results or results of happiness.

“In terms of trying to measure the effect of dog ownership on depression, for example, and anxiety, we saw that people who had low social support and who were severely affected by COVID, you could see that their dog’s importance is greater. “Martin said.

“If you’re already doing well and you’re not too affected by the COVID situation, the likelihood of having a dog won’t help you be less depressed because you’re not very depressed already, but we’ve seen that people who were on the other side … could be more precise measure the impact, ”he pointed out.

In his particular situation, Martin already had a support system, so while he certainly loved having his dogs around, it didn’t change his mood. Still, it could be for someone who may be more personally affected by the pandemic.

The study was published Dec. 15 in the journal PLOS One.

Pets can provide affection, companionship and fun, said Teri Wright, a mental health a therapist in private 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 reasons?’ And I say it depends because they can also create a lot stress. And so it depends on the person, ”Wright said.

While Wright has a dog at home, she has a rabbit in her office named Dusty who helps her with therapeutic practice. He serves 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 retriever from Nova Scotia tolling ducks named Ranger and a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Ripley.

Coren, a professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, was not associated with this study.

He said the differences between anxiety and depression may be the reason why dogs affected one but not the other for participants in this study. It may be possible, Coren said, that the person who petted their dog had an immediate reduction in stress or anxiety rather than a long-term reduction.

“There is only so much anxiety during COVID. A dog will alleviate social anxieties, but not medical anxiety or financial anxiety,” Coren suggested.

Dogs can help reduce depression because they give a person unconditional positive respect, Coren said. This can be especially helpful in times like a pandemic, especially for someone without other social support.

“If you live alone or have minimal social support, I think a dog is a good addition to your mental health,” Coren said.

According to researchers, more work is needed to better understand the relationship between pet ownership, social support and how this affects the well-being of owners.

“I think if you’re a dog lover and you’re in a position to get a dog and take care of him or her, I think that shows that you should, that dogs actually contribute to the general well-being of people,” Martin said.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more on that the connection of man and animal.

SOURCES: Dr. Francois Martin, Section Leader, Behavior and Welfare Group, Nestle Purina, St. Joseph, Mo .; Teri Wright, Ph.D., mental health therapist, private practice, Santa Ana, California; Stanley Coren, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver; PLOS One, December 15, 2021

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