The Benefits of Dogs for Addiction Recovery
There has been a great deal of research showing the benefits of dogs in our lives, including the use of Animal Assisted Therapy in addiction recovery settings. This article will briefly explore some of the ways time spent with dogs can be a healthy addition to a recovery program. In addition, we will offer some suggestions on how to add dogs to your life without the full commitment of dog ownership.
Walking a Dog: Exercise and Social Benefits
It probably comes as no surprise that research demonstrates that dog ownership increases physical activity. The benefits of exercise go beyond the purely physical. Getting active offers tremendous mood benefits as well, including hormonal releases that reduce stress in the body and mind. This can be an important dovetail with other aspects of recovery.
Walking a dog also has the benefit of encouraging social interactions with other people, something that many in early recovery struggle with. Whether you are just walking in your neighborhood or visiting a local dog park, your odds of interacting with others along the way are increased when you have a canine companion to break through social barriers.
Mood Elevation: Finding a New Way to Feel Good
Modern research into the hormonal responses of the human-dog bond are revealing that people and canines have co-evolved to the mutual benefit of both species. Working with dogs can increase oxytocin levels, boosting our mood. For those of us that have turned to drugs, alcohol, food or the internet to feel good on demand, often at the cost of most of our relationships, spending time with dogs is a healthy alternative to destructive old habits. It can act as a bridge towards reestablishing our association with the benefits of social interaction.
One of the best ways to really explore these benefits is to learn basic positive training techniques for canines. These methods encourage intense bonding by taking advantage of dogs’ natural desire to please. Moreover, you can become very aware of the ways in which reward shapes behavior.
If you learn the methods of positive reinforcement training, you may just find clear parallels with your own journey in recovery. For example, learning to identify the activities that are operating as rewards in our own lives can be a powerful tool in retraining how we interact with the world. For most of us, our substance was our primary “reward” for too long. Diversifying the experiences that bring us pleasure in life is an important aspect of long-term success in recovery.
Companionship: Combating Loneliness with Unconditional Love
One of the most difficult experiences of early recovery can be dealing with the sense of isolation we can feel as we transition away from a party lifestyle and the people we associated with in active addiction. Dog ownership can have a major impact on our lives by giving us a strong connection point with another loving being.
Dogs don’t judge us. They don’t make demands or have high expectations. Bringing joy to a dog’s life is so much simpler than the complexity of human relationships. Although recovery usually involves learning to deal with some discomfort, often as a result of learning to do relationships with more emotional integrity, building a relationship with a dog can be a step in the right direction.
Low Commitment Ways to Bring a Dog into Your Life
If you are in early recovery, pet ownership may be too much responsibility. All is not lost! There are many opportunities to bring canines into your life without taking on a long-term commitment to a pet’s financial, health and attention needs.
Most local animal shelters welcome members of the community that are willing to devote a little time each week to visiting with the dogs at the shelter. Go for a walk, throw a ball or just sit in the sun for some belly rubs at your local ASPCA and reap the rewards of bringing pure joy to a dog’s life.
For those working a 12-step program, you may be encouraged to do service work as part of your recovery. What better way to give back while you connect to something outside of yourself that is meaningful and rewarding? Want a sense of purpose you can tap into on demand? Give some love to an abandoned shelter dog.
Another option for wading into dog ownership is fostering a dog who is waiting to find their forever home. Many local organizations work with shelters to provide just such a transition for dogs that would otherwise be destroyed in the shelter system.
Fostering a dog gives you an opportunity to experience the various benefits of having a dog in your life, while still keeping your future options open if it doesn’t work out. In addition, some animal foster organizations are able to help with the costs associated with necessary veterinary care.
Many people with dogs of their own are happy to loan their dogs out for an extra walk, hike in the woods, or trip to the beach. Perhaps the lowest commitment way to bring a dog into your life is to borrow one for the afternoon from a friend. Make sure you pick up some of their favorite doggy treats to take with you and keep the experience fun and playful.
Dogs give us such a gift of joy when we take some time to focus on their energy and natural playful drives. They can help us connect to the present with their unconditional love and simple needs. They remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Perhaps most importantly, they show us that happiness is something we can learn to access without chemicals.
Mat Coulton has worked with dogs for just under a decade and is the founder of WileyPup.com, a doggy lover’s website that provides great tips and advice for pet parents everywhere.
If you or a loved one is suffering with an addiction, the elite team at The Addictions Coach is here to help. 1.800.706.0318