It’s no secret that owning a dog is good for your health. Taking care of a dog can lead to higher levels of physical activity, lower blood pressure and an improved social life—and that’s just the tip of the health benefits iceberg. If you’re looking to increase your happiness and quality of life, getting a dog isn’t a bad strategy.
But dogs can also increase another related component of your life: mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Mindfulness itself has been associated with many benefits, including reduced stress, improved working memory, greater cognitive flexibility and improved relationship satisfaction. While mindfulness is closely associated with meditation, there any many other activities you can engage in to improve mindfulness—and, believe it or not, one of those activities is owning a dog.
Don’t believe us?
Here are eight ways owning a dog can increase your mindfulness.
Dogs are always living in the moment.
Your canine companion doesn’t fret about what is going to happen next month or week or even tomorrow. He’s just along for the ride, taking in things as they happen moment to moment. While, of course, you do need to think about the future sometimes (which includes, among other things, caring for your dog long-term), your pup can be a great inspiration for not fretting over things outside your control and focusing on the present instead.
They encourage you to tune in.
Because dogs are non-verbal (or at least, they can’t speak human language), you have to pay close attention to them. Does that bark mean that she needs to go out, or that she heard the postman deliver a package or that she wants to play? Dogs encourage you to pay close attention to what’s happening around you; after all, if your dog whines at the door and you ignore her, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a puddle of pee on your floor. This enhanced awareness can translate over into other areas of your life, including getting in touch with your own thoughts and feelings.
Dogs don’t stifle their emotions.
If your dog is ecstatic to see you or sulking because you wouldn’t give her an extra dog treat, trust us, you’ll know how she’s feeling. Dogs don’t shut down their emotions or keep them in, and there’s even evidence that they can read human emotions as well. As it happens, an important part of mindfulness is being nonjudgmental about your emotions, whether they are positive or negative. Dogs don’t judge themselves for being happy or sad, and they can encourage you to do the same for yourself.
They encourage you to be physically present.
Mindfulness isn’t just about noticing your own thoughts and feelings. It’s also about noticing your body and the environment around you. Your dog is an excellent model for this, since taking care of a dog requires meeting a lot of their physical needs: food, water, shelter, exercise and, of course, lots and lots of belly rubs. Dogs are also very tuned in to their physical environment, thanks to their acute senses, which is why they need to smell (and lick) everything around them. Take a cue from your dog: Put away your phone and pay attention to the sights, smells and sounds around you.
They give you a great reason to get outside.
Practicing mindfulness during physical movement, especially if you’re outside, can really improve your awareness of both your own body and the world around you. Since Rover needs to be exercised regularly anyway, be intentional as you all walk, deeply inhaling and exhaling from your abdomen. Once you’ve focused on your breath and are feeling calm, expand your attention to the sights, sounds and sensations you experience as you walk around. When your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to focus on your walk with your dog.
Dogs experience joy over the small things.
You know how your dog is always super excited to see you, even if you were gone for literally one minute to take out the trash? Dogs can encourage you to notice the small things in life and appreciate the joy and beauty in them. Maybe you had a bad day at work, but the weather was gorgeous outside, or someone complimented you on your outfit. Taking inspiration from your dog and appreciating the small things in life can help you connect more with the world around you in a positive way.
They can reduce your stress.
Dogs are frequently used as therapy animals in hospitals and nursing homes because of their therapeutic benefits, and petting and cuddling therapy dogs has been shown to immediately reduce stress and increase happiness and energy. But your pup doesn’t have to be an official therapy dog to help you de-stress and let go of negative emotions. Reduced stress increases your ability to be mindful, especially if you’re trying to meditate, since you’re worrying less about other concerns. If you find yourself really stressed out lately, try giving your dog a belly rub before you sit down to meditate.
Dogs remind you to take a break and play.
It can be tempting to keep on working or doing chores without stopping for a pause but giving your brain a break allows you to come back refreshed, with greater awareness and focus. Taking a few minutes to throw some dog toys around the house or go on a quick walk will do good for both you and your dog. He’ll work off his extra energy, and you’ll return to the task at hand with greater mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness comes with many benefits, as does owning a dog—and the two can become a positive feedback loop. If you’re looking to increase mindfulness and already own a dog, try these eight tips to increase mindfulness as well as spend quality time with your furry friend. Pups are already present in the moment, but we’re pretty sure they won’t turn down more cuddles, walks and playtime.
Do you have a dog or a pet? What have your pets taught you?
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