The beneficial affects of dogs on people with depression has been well documented, and is it really any surprise?
Those furry, four-legged, tail-wagging dogs bring tons of joy into our lives, and for those coping with depression, the unconditional love of a dog can have tremendous power.
Dogs can help with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many other mental health issues that affect your day-to-day life. Some dogs even provide emotional support as a full-time gig, working as service animals that are placed in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other locations.
While the advantages of dog ownership are huge, it’s worth asking – what are the best dogs for depression? You’ll want to find the right dog for you.
Picking the wrong dog for your lifestyle can increase stress and anxiety, so finding a dog that’s a good fit is essential for reaping the mood-boosting benefits of canine ownership.
How Dogs Can Help Alleviate Depression
Owning a dog can help improve mood and reduce stress levels – as a result, dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners.
Nearly any dog has the potential to alleviate one’s depression. This is why a dog needs no formal training or certification to be considered an emotional support animal (ESA) — animals can provide us with emotional support simply through their presence!
Dogs can alleviate depression in a number of ways:
- Unconditional Love. Dogs provide an abundant source of unconditional love. Dogs don’t care what kind of person you are or what kind of problems you have – they’ll love you regardless.
- Responsibility & Sense of Worth. Having another creature depend on you for their needs can add a great sense of value in a person’s life. Being able to provide food, water, and care for another living being allows us to feel important and provides a sense of worth.
- Activity. Exercising a dog, like all exercise, also releases serotonin and dopamine. Having a dog to walk gives owners a reason to get beneficial exercise, and also owners outside for some fresh air.
- Meet New People. Dogs help their owners meet new people and make friends – who doesn’t want to meet their neighbor with the new puppy?
- Routine. Caring for a pet can add structure, routine, and purpose to your day. For those suffering from depression, a set, regular routine can be very comforting and helpful.
- Physical Touch. We often don’t acknowledge the power of physical touch. Touching another living creature can be very comforting, and petting (or cuddling) a dog can go a long way in reducing stress. Playing with animals has also been shown to release serotonin and dopamine (those great good-feeling drugs). If you’re looking to train an emotional support dog, teaching your dog to come in for a good cuddle on cue is a great starting point!
- Better Health. Dog owners have lower blood pressure than those without pets, especially in stressful situations
In this video, YouTube blogger Erin discusses how her dog Digby helps her cope with her depression – have a watch!
Choosing the Right Dog for Your Personality
While it’s been well demonstrated that dogs can help reduce depression, it’s important to consider which canine characteristics and traits will best benefit your individual needs.
For some people with depression, a happy-go-lucky goofball like a retriever is ideal. Active dogs like retrievers can help owners get out and be active, boosting endorphins and improving mood.
However, others may find that type of dog to be exhausting and frustrating, making things worse. These people may do better with a cuddly Havanese.
Talk to your mental health professional and your potential dog’s breeder to better understand which types of dogs will suit your emotional and physical needs.
8 Best Dogs For Depression: Canines That Can Cure the Blues
We consider these canines as the best dogs for depression due to their personality and behavior, but they are by no means the only dogs out there for those suffering from depression.
Still, if you’re not sure where to start, check these dogs out – they are sure to brighten your day!
Outgoing, funny, and intelligent are the words that the American Kennel Club uses to describe the Havanese. This small, medium-energy dog is a cheery ball of fluff that is sure to brighten up your day.
Besides regular grooming and mellow walking, Havanese generally should not be high-maintenance and are great companions to come home to. Havanese are also hypoallergenic and known for having great, easy-going personalities.
2) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
This affectionate, gentle dog was a top pick for royalty back in the day. Their easygoing nature, small size, and medium energy level make them similar to the Havanese. However, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels tend to have less hair and are slightly more active.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are laid back with children and other dogs. They are happy to snuggle on the couch or go for long walks in the park.
3) Border Collie
If you’re looking for a dog that will challenge you to get out, exercise, and work on training, look no further than the Border Collie.
Border Collies are incredibly intelligent and high-energy. These dogs need a lot of exercise, but if you’re up for the challenge, few dogs are more rewarding. Working on training and tricks with your Border Collie can be incredibly fun and motivating, as long as you are willing to dedicate the time and focus.
Border Collies can be huge cuddle buddies and are very affectionate. However, they can also be shy, so they need more early-life socialization than other dogs
4) Golden Retriever
It’s hard to beat a Golden when it comes to their goofy nature and playfulness.
Like the Border Collie, Golden Retrievers are a great option if you are looking for a dog to help you get out of the house, as they need a decent amount of exercise. These larger sized dogs generally love everyone and everything they meet, and are famous for their constant smiles.
Golden Retrievers and Golden mixes are generally good with children and all other pets. They are also incredibly trainable and smart, making it clear why they’re the third most popular breed in the US. However, if you’re not up for daily walking or play, the Golden may not be for you.
Golden Retrievers continue to be a common dog that is registered as an emotional support animal, and they’re popular for service dogs too.
5) American Staffordshire Terrier
While Am-Staffs (as they’re commonly called) may look standoffish, they can be incredibly sweet companions.
American Staffordshire Terriers are in the “pit bull” unofficial group, but don’t let that deter you (especially since pit bulls really get a much worse rap than they deserve). Am-Staffs are smart, confident, and loyal.
Good-natured dogs with huge smiles, they love to play. They are known for being quite silly at times, and with proper early-life socialization, they will be great with kids, strangers, dogs, and small animals. They need less exercise than Border Collies or Golden Retrievers, and are between them size-wise.
Be careful to get them from a responsible breeder and ensure that your living space allows “pit bull” breeds. Owning an Am-Staff can be incredibly rewarding – these dogs are natural comforters and protectors.
These dogs are calm and affectionate, and this group comes in a variety of sizes with similar temperaments. It’s hard to go wrong!
If you’re looking for a charming, small companion to brighten your day, pugs are a fantastic option.. These cute little dogs are playful with medium energy, and are known for being well-mannered. You can’t get much more different looks-wise from a whippet!
Their even tempers and loving personalities make pugs an American favorite. They are prone to breathing issues, making them not ideal for joggers, but a great option for apartment-dwellers short on running space.
8) Shiba Inu
Shibas – “inu” just means dog in Japanese – are known to be attentive, alert, and active.
These little dogs can be very catlike in their behavior, so be prepared for a playful but independent companion. They can be aloof and tricky to train, but their small size and easygoing nature makes up for this.
Shibas aren’t the best for novice owners who want a cuddle buddy, but their unique personality wins them many fans who are up for a challenge and aren’t huge fans of “velcro dogs” who can’t leave your side.
Quirky and fun, Shibas are sure to brighten up your life without adding too much of an exercise and social burden. While they are similar in size and energy level to pugs, these breeds are not interchangeable!
Breeds: A Good Starting Point
Dog breeds have been bred for specific purposes over the years, with different breeds displaying different personality traits, behaviors, and care requirements.
We’re detailing the recommended dog breeds or breed groups that often work well as emotional support animals and are commonly considered best dogs for depression.
Once you have identified a breed or breed group (ie, shepherds, terriers, or retrievers) that interest you, start speaking to owners, breeders, or rescue staff that work with these dogs. These animal care professionals and owners can help you identify individual dogs that will work best for your lifestyle.
Big differences exist between working versus show lines in many breeds, so talking to your breeder or shelter staff is just as important as doing early research on various breeds.
While dog breeds have been developed of the years for specific purposes, each dog is an individual, so make sure to get to know your potential canine partner before bringing them home permanently.
What About A Rescue Dog for Depression?
It’s also worth noting that you by no means need to get a purebred dog – make sure to consider adopting a rescue dog from a shelter.
These dogs tend to have boundless love to give, and are often especially appreciative of finding their new forever home. Mixed breed dogs, often found in shelters, can have the best of multiple breeds, so make sure to consider them for your canine companion!
Warning: Dogs Are Not a Blanket Cure for Depression
While owning a dog can certainly go a long way towards helping uplift someone with depression, bringing home a dog doesn’t instantly make you a different person. In fact, bringing home a new pet can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming situation.
Owning a dog often requires a serious lifestyle change, and adds a whole new host of responsibilities not everyone will be prepared to meet. Be sure to think long and hard before bringing home a new dog.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not you can handle the burden of pet ownership, consider fostering a dog from your local animal shelter! Not only does fostering provide a shelter dog with a much-needed break from the stressful shelter environment, it also gives you a trial period to practice pet ownership, allowing you to find out if you’re really ready for a long-term canine commitment.
Do you have an emotional support pet, official or unofficial? How does your dog help you through the day? Share your experience in the comments!