4 min read

The Mental Health Benefits of Having a Dog in 2021


Written by Mel Lee-Smith

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 04/14/2020, edited: 06/09/2023

Updated: 7/12/2021
 Studies show that cohabiting with canines makes us happier and healthier in countless ways. From soothing symptoms of depression and anxiety to improving sleep and reducing the risk of heart disease, our woofers work wonders for our health. Some research suggests that your dog’s germs can even strengthen your immune system.

Such benefits are especially welcome in a world facing a global health crisis. Humans are a social species — our brains simply aren’t equipped to handle shelter-in-place. Frustration, boredom, and even symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder are common negative effects of the coronavirus quarantine, according to a recent paper published in Rapid Review.

The good news is, sheltering in place with your dog helps relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. Let's explore the mental health benefits of sheltering in place with your dog, as well as some activities you can enjoy together.

We've also updated this article with findings from a recent mental health survey of Pet Parents on the Wag! platform.

Pet parents who use Wag! app participated in Wag!'s 2021 Mental Health Survey on how they receive mental health benefits of sheltering in place with their dog or cat

“My dog has made me a better person” — how pets improved our mental health in 2020

“Walking him and going to the parks have made me feel more connected to my neighbors and community.”

We first published this article in April 2020, when lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing measures were still new.

Now that we've been living in this socially distanced world for over a year, we wanted to check in with Pet Parents to learn how quarantining with their fur-babies affected their mental health.

Here are a few of the findings from Wag!’s recent mental health survey:

  • 96% of Pet Parents agreed their pets improved their mental health in 2020.

  • 98% said their pets helped them feel less lonely.

  • 18% adopted a pet during quarantine.

Pet Parents also expressed anxiety about returning to work after the pandemic. 85% of Pet Parents won't be allowed to bring their pet to work with them, and 36% worry that returning to work without their pets will increase their stress levels.

Many Pet Parents also shared heartfelt stories about how their pets helped them make it through 2020. (Grab a tissue before reading on — you’re gonna need it!)

“Walking him and going to the parks have made me feel more connected to my neighbors and community.”

“Playing with him helps me take a much-needed break during busy workdays. He helps me carve free time and outdoor activities during the week."

“Casey helped me through the grief of my husband’s death.”

“He makes me laugh. I never laughed when I was alone.”

The psychological benefits of sheltering in place with your dog

Not only do our puppers provide a welcome distraction from the constant barrage of anxiety and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, but their companionship also boosts oxytocin levels in our brains. Aptly nicknamed “the love hormone,” oxytocin plays a key role in social bonding and stress regulation, among other biological functions. (And in this turbulent time when so many of us are isolated from our friends and family, we could all use a little extra social bonding and stress regulation!)

Pet parents also reap the rewards of regular exercise, including improved cardiovascular health, decreased risk of diabetes, and lower stress levels. Walking your dog for just 30 minutes a day also discourages destructive behaviors that might arise during quarantine, like chewing, digging, and excessive barking.

Our dogs love spending time with us. Not only is that apparent in their excitement when we return home from work or school, but it’s also backed by science. In fact, dogs find our mere presence rewarding, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Applied Behavior and Analysis.

And because many of us worked from home during lockdown, we had all the time in the world to spend with our dogs. That means sheltering in place benefits our dogs' mental health as much as our own! And when your hound’s happy, you can’t help but be happy too.

Activities to do with your dog during quarantine to improve your mental health

Chilling out and binging your favorite shows with your canine compadre helps relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. But if you find yourself feeling antsy from all that downtime, try your paw at some of these quarantine activities with your dog.

Practice mindfulness

Our mutts have truly mastered mindfulness. When you’re overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or scared, take a break from the news to sit with your dog and just be present. Pet or play with your pup while observing your breath and your surroundings. Because your fur-baby is tuned in to your emotions, they’ll likely feel a little calmer too.


High-energy hounds might resort to destructive behaviors to stave off boredom. Why not grab some treats and work on trick training or basic obedience commands? Afterward, burn those extra calories with fun activities for dogs indoors, like hall ball, the muffin tin game, and stair exercises.

Whip up some homemade dog treats

Sheltering in place is the optimal time to experiment with new recipes. Many homemade dog treats are super simple to make and require few ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry, like sweet potatoes and rolled oats. Need some inspo? Check out our guide on hypoallergenic dog treat ideas!

Lend a helping paw during the coronavirus quarantine

Giving back to your community is a “grrreat” way to lift your spirits — and someone else’s! — in these frightening times. If you’d like to lend a helping paw to your community, consider fostering or adopting a pet in need.

As shelters closed their doors due to COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, emergency fosters stepped up to the plate and saved countless four-legged lives. Wag! teamed up with GreaterGood for the #stayhomeandfoster initiative to deliver foster pups and pet supplies to good samaritans across the country.

For more information on the coronavirus and how it affects you and your pet, check out our COVID-19 resource center for pet parents and find answers to frequently asked questions.

The Pet Parent's Back-to-Work guide for returning to the office without their pets (#6 advises pet parents to schedule a day-time visit)

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