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Walking the dog

The 22nd February is international ‘walking the dog day’, so we thought we’d look a little about how having a furry friend can help you in your grief. That said, you don’t have to be suffering the loss of a loved one to appreciate the hope that a dog brings. As we’ve seen in lockdown, many dog owners have really come to appreciate their dog walks as a way of getting out the house for some fresh air.

If you already have a dog when somebody dies, they can be a great comfort. In fact, many dogs will pick up when you are sad – perhaps just from your body language – and be there to nuzzle your hand, ready to snuggle in for a stroke. Instinctively, dogs want us to be happy and will stay by your side until you seem better.

A recent study states that dogs are more likely to walk up to a person who is crying than when that person is exhibiting ‘normal’ happy behaviours. The researchers concluded that a human crying had more of an emotional pull for the dogs - the dogs seemed to empathise with the crying human not from curiosity, but from pure concern.

According to the website

Research shows that when we pat a dog or cat, not only is the feel-good chemical oxytocin released (the same one we feel when hugging a loved one), but our levels of the stress hormone cortisol dips. For someone struggling with anxiety and depression, this kind of attachment with a dog has the possibility of taking them outside the hopelessness of their anxious or depressed state, and perhaps allowing them to see new hope.

While the existing family pet can help in grief, some people have found that bringing a dog into the house after a bereavement can also be beneficial. Apart from all the reasons listed above, the dog can be a good way of ‘forcing’ somebody out of the house for a walk – which is good for mental and physical health – but can also help us to meet others for a chat, who are also out walking their pooches.

Some dogs can provide a lot more than companionship. A few years ago - when our Bereavement Group was able to meet up together – we enjoyed a wonderful talk from Ruth, a puppy parent volunteer with Canine Partners. Ruth brought along the gorgeous Marley, who was training to become one of the charity’s assistance dogs, working alongside a disabled person.

Some dogs accompany their owners to work, while others are invaluable on shopping trips. One dog has been trained to let the household cat in when it appears at the door, while others collect mail and help their owners undress for bed.

All Canine Partners dogs are trained about what to do in an emergency – which may involve pressing an emergency lifeline button or signalling to another member of the household.

If you’ve got a dog, we hope you enjoy the companionship it brings.

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