The canine mind contains the same emotion producing structures as the human mind, as well as the same chemical changes and hormone fluctuations in response to strong emotions. While more complex emotions, such as shame, pride, and contempt, are beyond the emotional range of most dogs, they are certainly able to experience loss, grief, and boredom, all of which can lead to a sad or depressed state. While there are antidepressants available for our canine companions, there are also more natural ways that may help to ease your dog’s distress and get them back to their normal, joyous self.
When dogs are bored or distressed they often exhibit repetitive behaviors, like circling, barking, and even licking and chewing on their own paws. These activities produce endorphins in your dog’s body, temporarily relieving their stress. Walking with your dog is an inexpensive activity that releases endorphins in a healthy way and is known to help alleviate depression in humans as well as canines. This activity can not only help to get your dog out of their funk, it can enhance your bond with your dog and give you an emotional and physical boost as well. If your dog is a particularly energetic or athletic animal it may be more difficult to induce the production of endorphins, so you may want to gently increase the intensity of the workout by walking further, by adding canine appropriate weights, or by increasing the speed from a walk to a jog.
Dogs that are displaying signs of depression without an obvious external cause, such as the loss of a housemate or a change in environment, may be displaying these behaviors because they are under-stimulated or bored. This can often be remedied by providing the right kind of toys and puzzles to entertain and engage the canine mind. While there are a great number of well-constructed and interesting toys available commercially, many pet parents find it more enjoyable and economical to create their own puzzle toys using everyday objects from around the home. Many puzzles and toys that are designed for canines also include an element of chewing, an activity that not only has the physical benefits of cleaning the teeth and strengthening the jaw but also satisfies a natural instinct in dogs, reducing anxiety and tension.
One of the ways people attempt to overcome depression is to find something to be passionate about in their own lives, and dogs can often find comfort the same way. Many dogs that have been listed as unadoptable dogs or dogs with behavior problems have gone on to become productive and stable as canine actors, soldiers, search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs, and even service dogs. Some dog breeds, like the Australian Shepherd, the Beagle, or the Newfoundland, have a natural instinct that drives them to do their job, and having that instinct thwarted can exacerbate or instigate depression in some dogs.
While activities that you can do with your pet are always encouraged, sometimes that just isn’t enough. If you have a highly social dog, taking them to doggie daycare will allow them to interact with other canines in a more structured setting than at a dog park, and may also prevent boredom for dogs whose owners are not home during a large portion of the day.
Doga is a type of Yoga in which your dog is incorporated into your yoga poses. This type of activity not only helps to reduce stress levels for you and your pet, it bolsters bonding and can help your canine become more comfortable with being touched and manipulated.
Depression can affect dogs for many reasons and it may make your dog feel irritable, lethargic, and uninterested in the things around them. Activities and exercises like the ones listed here can engage a depressed canine’s mind and their body and in some cases, they may help to re-balance their body chemistry and brighten their mood.