If you're a dog lover, then you already know about the incredible healing powers they have. Simply being around a dog can make you feel more at ease by lowering your heart rate, distracting you from worried thoughts, and even providing the confidence (and companionship) you need to get out of the house. And yes, this is all supported by science. But did you know that there are specific dog breeds that can help you fight anxiety?
"The simple act of skin touching fur has the ability to create and release serotonin, melatonin, and endorphins into our system, which creates a feeling of calm and well-being," Dobie Houson, an animal communicator and award-winning author, tells Bustle. "HABRI, the Human Animal Bond Research Institute has a wealth of information. According to their research, animals assist humans by reducing loneliness, improving one’s sense of purpose, improving confidence, and reducing anxiety." And when it comes to these qualities, the breed doesn't matter. If you're ready to adopt a dog, or simply want to spend time with one, hanging out with poodles, pitbulls, labs, terriers, mutts, and mixes of all of the above will do the trick.
But when it comes to how you like to reduce your anxiety, some breeds may be more relaxing for you than others. It all "depends on the way the individual eliminates their stress," therapist Kryss Shane, BS, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW tells Bustle. There are several breeds that are known for their abilities as companion and therapy dogs, breeds that tend to fair better on planes with anxious fliers, and breeds that can make you feel safe. Here are a few dogs experts say you should consider spending time with, if you have anxiety.
If you're someone who soothes your anxiety by hanging out at home and getting a little R&R, then you'd likely be happiest with a dog who digs doing the same. "[People who] love to sit quietly and read as a way to calm their anxiety ... would likely benefit from a ... dog who enjoys sitting quietly near its owner, such as a bulldog." Or any type of bulldog mix.
These guys need exercise and walks just like any other breed, but tend to be more laid-back and low energy, which is perfect when all you want to do is chill at home.
If you're looking to get out of the house, or tend to feel better after exercising or hitting up the park, then look for higher energy breeds. You might "benefit from a puppy with tons of energy or a more energetic dog, such as a retired greyhound," Shane says. Or any other excitable, playful dog.
The added bonus here is that, like so many dogs, greyhounds really do benefit from being adopted, as many are retired from racing and could use a good, comforting home.
If you live alone, or have anxiety regarding your personal safety, Shane says you'll likely feel good around a breed that's known for its guard dog capabilities, such as a German Shepard. Once this breed is bonded to you and properly trained, you'll likely feel safer while at home, as well as when you're out and about town.
Another great breed when it comes to offering protection is the Boxer, and variants thereof. "Guard dogs are genetically bred to have traits that are naturally protecting such as being able to 'sense' their owner's emotions, they are able to quietly and obediently stay by their owner's side, and they have large builds that give off a feeling of safety and personal security," security expert Scott Bay tells Bustle.
So if you want to feel protected, consider adopting a big, strong breed like this. "People that have anxiety need something steady and calm around them at all times. A German Shepherd or Boxer is perfect for this because they are easily trained and extremely loyal," says Bay. "This helps their owners when they have an anxiety attack to stay grounded and rely on their dog emotionally."
Labrador retrievers are a breed known for their therapy dog capabilities, which is why you often see them comforting folks in hospitals. But they're great for anxiety sufferers, too.
"People feel immediately comfortable when a lab walks in the room," Deborah Fingerlow, a certified therapy dog handler and trainer, tells Bustle. "[They] are also highly recommended for service dog work; they train easily and well."
6Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
For those who aren't into larger breeds — or can't have one due to annoying apartment restrictions — smaller breeds can be trained to help as well. "For those looking for smaller dogs for therapy work, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is an excellent choice," says Fingerlow. Not to mention, they're incredibly cute.
Another great small breed is the Maltese, which Shane says is the perfect dog for someone who just needs to snuggle their dog. Of course, any breed can be snuggled — even a Great Dane, if you try hard enough. But sometimes all you need is a tiny lapdog to hang out with, and help you relax.
Golden Retrievers, and all the mixes you often find in shelters, can be great, too. "Their mostly calm personalities make them among the top choices," Fingerlow says. Golden Retrievers are also great if you suffer from depression as well.
Again, big dogs who want to sit on your lap are often the best kind when it comes to making someone feel comforted. Among them are Saint Bernards, which are "are affectionate gentle giants who can provide a sense of ease and calm," says Douson.
Newfoundlands are big dogs, and — as with all dogs — should be adopted by people who know what they're getting into. But if they're a good fit for you, they may be just what you need to reduce your anxiety. "Newfies [as they're known] are just big love bugs," Douson says. "They love to learn, which makes them highly suitable. Also, they love water, so for a human who also loves water it can be really calming to have a big fuzzy lifeguard nearby."
If you're looking for a dog who will "get you," go for a soulful poodle. "Poodles are known for their intelligence and are considered one of the three smartest breeds," Douson says. "They are also very eager to please and have a reputation for their suitability for people prone to panic attacks."
12Bernese Mountain Dogs
Another big, lovable breed is Bernese Mountain Dogs. "What makes them so suited for therapy work is that they are friendly but non-aggressive, and not overly protective so they can be out with crowds and they are also highly intelligent," Douson says. So if you need a steady pup who will walk through the streets with you, and sit calmly while you eat outside at a restaurant, this might be for you.
Great Pyrenees are incredibly similar to Bernese Mountain dogs temperament-wise. They may be big, but Douson says they can make great companions and therapy dogs due to their intelligence and non-aggressive tendencies. And when it comes to finding the right breed for you, and reducing your anxiety, that may be just what you need.
Do keep in mind, though, that any breed will do! Whether you come across a lovable mutt or a purebred, adopting a dog can be a great way to ease stress, and feel less anxious. Just make sure that you find the right dog for you, and that you know what you're taking on beforehand. As long as you're ready to adopt a dog, and know all the responsibilities that entails, it really can be the best thing ever.