Reducing Stress

Leash Your Dog ... And Unleash Your Endorphins, Stress, And Anxiety

by Shannon Arner // April-May-June 2017

You have likley heard your co-workers or friends say how “stressed out” they are, or how they may need to take a “mental health day” off from work. It seems stress and anxiety in our culture go hand in hand these days. But what about our dogs? Studies have shown that owning and/or interacting with dogs helps to reduce stress and anxiety, but what about when your dog is stressed? How do you know when your dog needs a mental health day or a relief from the stress and anxiety he/she is experiencing?

You may think your pup has a pretty cushy life – no bills to pay, no rush hour traffic to fight, no deadline pressures at work … but there are plenty of things that bring your dog anxiety. You may not know it, but your stressors and reactions bring about anxiety for your furry one as well. If you are tense and anxious, your dog picks up on that. If you are arguing with your spouse or children, your pup begins to tense up and may even cower in the corner, waiting for the tension to die down. Stress is unhealthy for you, and your best friend.

The things that constitute a healthy lifestyle for humans are very similar to what bring about positive health for your dog: quality nutrition, exercise, regular checkups at the doctor (veterinarian), and a little TLC. Dogs need stimulation and activity to make them happy and healthy. When dogs lack some of these healthy contributors, they become stressed, anxious, and often, destructive. He or she may chew up your shoes, the corner of the rug, or rip your favorite chair into a million pieces of confetti, just waiting to greet you upon your arrival home. This is enough to make anyone upset; but before you get angry, ask why this behavior is occurring. Are you meeting your pet’s needs? You have a busy life, so how can you be a great pet parent by giving your dog all he/she needs, and lead a healthy lifestyle for yourself? You can do it with your dog.

From your pet’s perspective, a walk is a great way to expel some of that pent-up energy, and release some of the anxiety he/she is experiencing from you being away all day. Many pet health professionals recommend that a healthy, orthopedically-sound dog receive at least two 30-minute walks each day. That is about the same as we as humans need to stay healthy, so it’s a win-win. You’ve probably heard the term “A tired dog is a happy dog;” – meaning that if Fido gets the exercise he needs, he is generally happier and healthier.

If the task seems overwhelming to you, take small steps. Start with once a day. As soon as you arrive home from work, leash your pup and go for a walk. Not only does this release endorphins, it will also remove some of the end-of-day anxiety you have from work, traffic, etc. and will ease your tense muscles from a long day at the office. Plus, you bond with your dog when walking, creating memories together. If you have extra time after work or on the weekend, you can make that walk into a venture on the greenway or a hike on nearby trails. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful area, perfect for hikes, so you and Fido can enjoy what is available by Mother Nature, at no cost to you, except a little of your time. It is a small price to pay for both you and your pup’s health – and for he/she to view you as pet parent of the year!

If the afternoons or evenings seem too daunting, then start your day with a morning walk with your pup. This is a great way to get the day moving and your pooch on the way to feeling tired and less anxious when you leave for work.

Similar to their human parents, pets have packed on the pounds over the last decade. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of the cats and dogs in this country are overweight or obese. The extra weight brings forth the increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses – no different than humans. More illness and disease mean more money spent at the veterinarian’s office, and more stress and anxiety for you and your dog. It can become a vicious cycle if you allow it. The good news is that some of the anxiety you and your pup have can be remedied simply by some fresh air.

So, what do you do if you are in a super busy household where time just doesn’t seem to be an option? Often, the rush of getting the kids to school and hurrying out of the house to beat the morning traffic can leave your furry pal unable to get the exercise he/she needs to feel comfortable with being left at home all day. Then, when you get home, you may be too tired from the busy work day, helping the kids with homework, preparing dinner, and getting ready for it all to begin again the next day. In cases where time is just not a possibility, you can delegate your dog walks to a professional pet sitter/dog walker. He or she can come in and walk your dog in the mornings, midday, or evenings. Having a dog as a part of your family means providing the necessities he/she needs. There is no shame in hiring a professional to take care of your pet, similar to hiring a landscaper, housecleaner, or a nanny for your child.

It may take some time to get into these habits of living healthier with your pet, but once you do, you’ll be happier, healthier, and less stressed – and so will your pup. 

Shannon Arner

A Certified Professional Pet Sitter and owner/founder of Pet 'n Nanny LLC, providing professional pet sitting/dog walking services to Wake Forest, Rolesville, and North Raleigh communities.