As we all get used to our new daily realities of social distancing and the challenges it brings to our lives, it’s a good opportunity to remember that for many of us who are dog owners, our four-legged friends will play a vital role in helping us manage our health, both mentally and physically, as well as provide us with some important structure to our days.
Research over many years has documented the health benefits of dogs to humans and these include greater exercise, lower risks of cardiovascular disease and increased immunity to allergies in children. The contribution dogs make to our mental health might be harder to measure, but is equally important, and that is why dogs will play a vital role in the lives of many people during the worldwide Covid-19 crisis.
At Dogs for Good, our 30+ years of experience training dogs to work alongside people with a range of disabilities and conditions has shown us that dogs are good for people in so many different ways and the Covid-19 crisis will, I am sure, demonstrate even more powerfully how important dogs can be in supporting people’s health and well-being.
A great time to support our dogs
We are all living in extremely confusing and frightening times, but people who have a dog in their household will benefit from maintaining some kind of routine that their dogs crave for. For example, dogs tend to remind us pretty forcibly when it is time for them to eat, they have a rhythm to their day that can help us to keep some kind of structure in our daily lives and of course, they need to go out for walks. Their innocence makes us want to protect and do the best for them and this powerful human instinct tends to get accentuated when we are anxious. Spending quality time training and playing with dogs will enrich all our lives.
If you want to find some great games you can play with your dog – have a look at our ‘good ideas’.
Traditionally, one of the great powers that dogs have is in acting as a ‘connector’. Many of the people we support at Dogs for Good, and pretty much all dog owners, will have met and conversed with many strangers through their dog – the reality is that if you walk down the road with a dog, people will stop and talk to you. That’s not such a great idea at the moment whilst we all learn to live with social distancing, so we are going to have to put that particular benefit to one side for now. However, the magnetism that dogs display in bringing people together will have a hugely valuable influence on family life as we all cope with feeling disorientated – children will have a friend to talk to, dogs will make us laugh together and we can all take this opportunity to maintain regular exercise.
Creating a great human-dog bond does rely on people understanding how to meet the needs of their dog and create an environment where the dog feels safe and secure. Given that dogs are essentially creatures of habit, one of the best ways you can help your dog is to maintain routines as much as possible, although these may need to be adapted to reflect the current restrictions on all our lives. Settling into some regular routine will really help your dog. In turn, developing routines is going to be equally important for most of us as we hunker down and come to terms with the reality that this is likely to be a marathon not a sprint!
Living with a dog will bring great benefits to many people over the coming months, helping them cope with the stresses and anxieties that most of us will have during these difficult times and hopefully, bringing joy and some sense of ‘normality’ into a very abnormal situation. Make the best of this opportunity and I am sure we will see yet further evidence of the power of dogs in our lives.
Peter Gorbing – Chief Executive of Dogs for Good.