Why My Dog Was The Best Thing Ever For My Stress

Otis, my therapist

Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell. -Emily Dickinson

I have written on this site before that I do not deal with stress well. And by well, I mean my body takes the stress manifested in my mind and physically uses it to attack me. I get rashes, horrible acid reflux, sometimes my hair falls out, my eyes do weird things and of course, there was that time I got shingles. And if I am not physically getting sick I am often ripping hang nails off my fingers to a disturbing point. I’ve been told to go to yoga, see a shrink, run more (my mother), go to Pilates, eat healthier (my mother), drink more water, stop eating candy (again, my mother) and many other things. I’ve probably only tried half. But the thing that helped me the most, believe it or not, was meeting a 3 pound Yorkshire Terrier puppy who would come to be known as Otis.

When you grow up with dogs and have them as just a part of your life, it is very difficult to find yourself to be a adult and not have one. But there is that whole working 60 hours a week, and paying for them and going on walks at 5 am. But I came to a point in my life, after living in New York for a few years, where I decided I was ready for a dog.

I am not going to lie. Part of the appeal was definitely being able to tote him or her around in a cute bag and putting funny Halloween costumes on the pup. I am not above saying that I enjoy carrying around tiny, furry adorable creatures.

And that is also super fun. But I will be completely honest and say that the first, I’d say, three months you have a dog, especially a puppy, you will regret it. You will find yourself walking around holding this tiny thing in one arm with a glass of Pinot Grigio in the other, asking yourself where did your life go. You have become responsible for a living thing and in some ways, it really sucks.

When you get a dog, it automatically ages you. You have to be responsible for something else. It was extremely stressful in the beginning. In New York City, puppies really can’t go outside until they have had all their shots so you are literally under house arrest with this creature that thinks your shoes are its play things. You will have to skip fun things like a movie, or going to a bar or getting a pap smear because you feel like you can’t leave your dog. And sleeping through the night is a thing of the past.

You also get concerned with something else’s bodily functions, to a degree that will scare you. I am not going to lie. I probably have dog pee on my at least 75% of the time. And today I laughed victoriously when I stuck my fingers down my dog’s throat to retrieve half of a rolled up napkin wrapped around some kind of substance (was it poop? was it crack? I don’t know!) and managed to get it out. I once went to a party with the cast of Gossip Girl. WHAT HAPPENED TO MY LIFE?

But after a few months, you start to see the benefits. And for me one of those major benefits was that when I got home from work, I couldn’t sit down and get back on my computer. I had to take that dog out or he was going to pee on my pillow. And when I was walking him, I couldn’t check my phone. And when we got to the dog park I could check my phone but I didn’t want to, because he was much more entertaining than any email.

I could also just talk to other people with dogs about stupid dog topics. I didn’t try to network or talk about anything relevant. We just talked about dogs. For that hour or two hours, I just get away from everything. It is just me and my dog. It is the only time of day when I don’t multitask and for that, I am eternally grateful to him.

Of course, I am not the first person to realize this. Dogs help stress. Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University studied 75 employees at Replacements, Ltd., enabling the team to bring up to 30 dogs to work each day. They then measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol and asked participants to rate their stress levels. On the days in which workers brought their dogs to the office, their reported stress levels fell 11%. When workers left their dogs at home, their stress levels rose up to 70%. But researchers didn’t see significant changes in cortisol levels.

In fact, a Canadian University just opened a room full of puppies for students to come and visit in between exams. Many studies have proven the link between a healthier, longer life and pet ownership (they can even help your blood pressure level.) Though the studies have largely focused on the effects of dogs and cats, other species provide benefits as well. Though I am not encouraging anyone to run and buy a horse, though according to movies they seem to do wonders for people.

“Watching your pet’s silly antics can make you laugh and help relieve stress,” says David Frei, spokesperson for the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization interested in relationships between people and animals. “Pets take away the tension that’s in your daily life, whether it’s for work or family-related problems. When you see a dog looking at you with his big, brown adoring eyes, that brings a certain relaxation to people.”

I am not going to say I still don’t get stressed and that sometimes after a long day I really don’t want to go and walk again but once I do, I feel better. My dog is definitely a lot of work but he has been one of the best stress relievers for this lifelong stress mess. He is truly a girl’s best friend.

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    • http://www.facebook.com/katrina728 Katrina Taylor

      Could not agree with this more. Working from home has become far more tolerable as I have my chihuahua Jolie by my side. (I refer to her as my secretary.) It’s amazing what five minutes of cuddling with a dog can do to your stress levels after a frustrating conference call!

    • Samantha Easter

      I completely agree. My situation is a little weird. I live in a small city in China where all my friends (and everyone in my possible social group) are my coworkers. It used to be that every minute of my waking life was working or bitching about work with my coworkers. Then I got a cat and I really couldn’t discuss my job with her and that made me feel much better. Having something to do, completely unrelated to work was a great stress reliever.

    • LA

      I’m sorry, but this is not always true. I have one who tends to feed off stress and become neurotic when I really do not need it. I love her but that is the way she is. If I’m relaxed, so is she, but it’s not the other way around. And you have to remember that even after those first three months, dogs get sick or old.

      Puppy stuff is a walk in the park compared to when they get really old, which is where my dog is now. They get incontinent and senile and you are going to find yourself scrubbing floors after really hard days at work, or cleaning bedding because they forgot they weren’t outside. It is sad and frustrating.

      I have seen people recommend adopting an animal to people who are going through a really stressful time or an illness. IMO this is a BAD idea. You may be envisioning getting a comforting animal but that’s not always the case. A little over two years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and I live away from family, and with my dog. While I was going through treatment I was regularly cleaning floors or stuffing enormous beds into the washer on days when I could barely walk. To say it was hard is an understatement.

      I don’t get these studies or general statements. Animals are living creatures and they are all different. And some of them are high-maintenance. You should never get a dog to fill a void in your life or because you need stress reduction.