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Man and dog have a special bond. Not for nothing is the dog called "Man's best friend." There's something about the non-judgmental love and loyalty that a dog gives his owner that makes for a special bond. Having a canine companion can dramatically decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness. Just knowing there's another life in the house that is dependent on you, often helps to reduce feelings of uselessness or rejection.
Then there are the social aspects of caring for a dog. When you take the dog for a walk, you'll find many strangers who would otherwise have passed by without a word, now take the time to stop and coo over the dog. There's also a definite benefit it getting out in the open air and taking some gentle exercise with the dog, which helps to lift spirits and make people feel better.
This is so aptly summed up in that saying about shelter dogs: "Who rescued who?"
It's been known for a long time that pet ownership can help with human health problems such as high blood pressure. Just stroking your fur-buddy or feelings his silky ears, can help to bring down blood pressure and improve human survival times after a stroke or heart attack. In addition, caring for a dog and they love they give back unconditionally, can also make a big difference to people suffering from depression.
Training a puppy to help lift your mood involves two aspects. The first is general training so that he is well-behaved and to help you bond together. The other aspect is training him to come and apply gentle pressure to you, to make you aware of his physical presence, at times when you're feeling low or depressed.
Training a puppy to help with depression starts before you home the puppy. It's important to consider practical factors, such as your needs for support and your income, before making a choice. In addition, it's vital to find a well-socialized puppy that is confident in his own right. This isn't to say that a rescue dog or a dog that had a bad start in life won't make a good therapy dog, but the path will be harder and more bumpy.
You will also need:
- Small bite-sized treats to reward the puppy
- A bag or pouch to keep the treats in
- A sofa on which to train the dog to lie on you
- Time and patience
- The will and ability to care for the dog's needs
The Start On the Right Paw Method
The right foundation
It takes a dog with a special temperament to become a therapy dog. When thinking of getting a puppy to train to help with depression, take some time to think over what breed is best suited to your needs. Also consider the level of care you can give the dog in return. For example, if your depression limits your ability to be outdoors, then avoid choosing a breed that needs a lot of exercise.
Consider the breed
Certain breeds have a reputation for being more affectionate than others. Good choices for a breed known to love human company includes Pug, Poodle, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Labrador, and Yorkshire Terrier to name but a few.
Find out about the mother's temperament
Ideally, choose a pup that stands a good chance of growing into a confident well-adjusted and friendly adult dog. The last thing you want is a dog that has issues with aggression or anxiety at a time when you are mentally challenged. The mother dog's temperament is a good guide. A friendly, gentle female is a good sign, but avoid pups from a litter where the mum is grouchy or snappy, as she's liable to teach her pups these traits.
Check the pups are well-socialized
Again, in order to help you, the pup needs to be well-adjusted himself. Early socialization is essential for this, which means the breeder has a program of exposing the pup to a variety of people, sights, and sounds, in an encouraging and positive way. This helps the pup grow into a confident adult that is not anxious when faced with an unfamiliar situation. Avoid pups from breeders who don't socialize their dogs or who keep them isolated in outdoor runs.
Think about the dog's needs
Make sure you choose a pup from a breed whose needs are within your capability to meet. For example, if you are financially constrained then it makes sense not to choose a breed which need to visit the grooming parlor every six weeks. Consider things such as how much exercise the dog needs, the cost of feeding, and whether the dog is a guarding breed who might be over-protective when visitors call.
The Bonding Method
What do we mean by bonding?
In truth, basic obedience training is a great way of forming a strong bond with your dog. It teaches the dog to look to you for guidance, plus, helps you to have a well-behaved dog that does as commanded - which reduces stress on you. When the dog looks to you for guidance you will have a special friendship based on trust and respect.
Start training the puppy as soon as he comes home. Just don't expect too much as his concentration is limited (as is his bladder and bowel control). However, this is no reason not to start with toilet training from as young as 8 weeks. Reward-based training is a method where good behavior is rewarded with treats, praise, or a game.
Teach basic commands
Work on basic commands such as 'Sit', 'Stay', 'Down', 'Look', and 'Come'. This will enable you to control the dog in most situations. This is important for the dog's welfare so that he doesn't run across busy roads or generally be out of control.
Play and exercise
Give the dog plenty of play. This can be in the home or outside it. Depending on the breed, take the dog for an appropriate number of walks on a daily basis. Not only is this essential for the dog, but exercise is beneficial to our mental health. In addition, you're bound to get people stop to say "Hello" to the pup, which is a lovely way of dealing with perceived isolation.
Concentrate on the dog's needs
You are the pup's carer and are responsible for meeting his needs for exercise, food, and somewhere comfortable to rest. Also, when you concentrate on the dog, being responsible for the care of another living thing can give you a reason to get up in the morning.
The Deep Pressure Therapy Method
What is deep pressure therapy (DPT)?
DPT is where the dog lies on your or places their head on your lap, in order to provide a comforting and calming presence. This has been shown to alleviate the signs of anxiety-disorders and shortens episodes of crisis.
Decide how the dog is to be positioned
If the dog is small, then the most effective position is for you to rest on a sofa, with the dog lying on your chest with his head next to yours. For a large dog, sit or lie on the sofa yourself and have the dog rest his head in your lap.
For a small dog you'll need to train the dog to jump up on the sofa. This is easily done by luring him with a treat so that he jumps up. Then praise him and give a reward. For a larger dog, the equivalent is calling him over to the sofa, giving praise and a reward.
Now encourage the small dog to lie along your chest. The 'Down' command is what you need for this. Once the dog is in position, praise him, and give a treat. For a larger dog, use a treat to help position his head in your lap then reward him for keeping it there.
Practice while you are well
Train the dog to have close contact with you while you are well. Then try mimicking some of the behaviors you might typically show when in the grip of depression. Call the dog and reward his cooperation. Your play acting will build an association in the dog's mind with needing to comfort you so that when he's needed in earnest he knows exactly what to do.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 04/13/2018, edited: 01/08/2021