Healthy Living in the North

Why getting a dog was the best thing I ever did for my mental health

Haylee smiles for the camera as her dog sniffs the side of her head. A meadow is in the background.

Having a dog has been great for my mental health.

I recently became a “dog mom” and I’ve noticed that it’s been great for my mental health!

Like life, my mental health has highs and lows. Stress, not sleeping properly, not moving my body enough, and not taking the time to feed myself nutritious meals can all contribute to my mental-health lows. When I make an effort to take care of these things, it improves my mental health and I generally feel much better. Lately, my mental health has had a boost, and it’s thanks to my dog! Let me tell you a little bit about her.

My rescue dog

I’d been thinking about getting a dog for a while when the opportunity to adopt came up. Growing up, my family always had dogs, so I knew I wanted one of my own one day. Scrolling through Facebook one afternoon, a post by my local SPCA caught my eye — they had dogs available for adoption! I went down to see them at once.

Dogs and “pawsitive” mental health

I ended up finding my perfect dog at the SPCA: a sweet girl named Paris. They say having a dog changes your lifestyle — in my case, it’s been for the better!

A white poodle walks through a meadow.

Walking my dog gets me outdoors and moving – both are linked to positive mental health.

Here are my three reasons why dogs are great for your mental health:

  1. Dogs get you outside and active
    Any responsible dog “parent” knows that dogs need daily exercise and stimulation. Since getting Paris, daily walks outside have become part of my routine! Studies show that being in nature positively effects your mental health. Whether we’re walking in our neighborhood or at the park, I’m outdoors when walking my pooch. This helps me clear my head and calm down if it’s been a tough day. Research also shows that physical activity, like walking, is linked to positive mental health. Sometimes Paris and I walk for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour — it all counts toward my physical activity goals and helps me feel better.
  2. Dogs encourage you to be social
    Social connectedness, or feeling close or connected to others, is linked to positive mental health. Since getting Paris, I’ve met more of my neighbours and met other people at the dog park. These little interactions bring a smile to my face and make me feel more connected to my community.
  3. Dogs provide comfort and companionship
    Dogs seem to have a sixth sense that tells them when their humans aren’t well. If I’m sick or sad, Paris is at my side, ready to cuddle until I feel better. And if my friends are busy or cancel plans, I know I have a companion to count on. Being alone can make me feel lonely sometimes, but no matter what, I know there’s a wagging tail waiting for me at the end of the day.

Do you have a dog or pet? How do they help your mental health? Let me know in the comments below!

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Angus the C. difficile Canine Scent Detection Dog visits UHNBC

Angus and Theresa looking at each other.

Angus the C. diff detection dog and his handler and owner, Theresa Zurberg visited UHNBC this week.

UHNBC had a visit from a very special four-legged worker this week. Angus, a four year old English springer spaniel, is a certified Clostridium difficile (C. difficile or C. diff) detection dog who works in the Canine Scent Detection Program at Vancouver Coastal Health.

C. difficile is the most common cause of acute diarrhea in hospitals and long-term care facilities in North America and is an extremely resilient superbug, making it very difficult to eliminate. The challenge lies in knowing where the contamination exists in order to take the necessary steps to keep health care facilities safe – hence where Angus comes in!

“Right now there’s no logistically feasible technology that can do what the dogs can do. We can’t go and do swabs because the cost and the resources involved just makes it not feasible,” says Angus’s handler and owner, Theresa Zurberg. “[The dogs] are quick and they’re accurate. They also open up conversations – they create engagement. They create excitement. [Staff] want to talk about it. Patients ask us questions. It makes it tangible.”

Angus the dog lying on the floor.Angus and Theresa paid UHNBC a visit as part of an expansion of the Canine Scent Detection Program to help other health authorities and agencies to better detect C. difficile. Angus has been to several hospitals in the Interior Health region; this year he is visiting UHNBC, as well as hospitals in the Ottawa area.

Besides being able to detect with 97% accuracy, there are other benefits to using the dogs:

“You can put up as many wash your hands posters as you want and people will eventually just ignore them. But when they see the dog work and alert on something, it makes it really tangible and that’s one of our best features of using the dog and using the program as a baseline assessment tool.”

Angus is the first certified C. difficile detection dog in Canada.

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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20 minutes a day: for my dog, or me?

Dog laying in grass

Abby laying in the shaded, cool grass after a good exercise and training session.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “consistency is key”? I’ve heard it lots in the context of physical activity for myself and my own healthy eating. However, since I’ve become the proud owner of my pup, I’ve also heard it in the context of dog training.

I want to be consistent with my pup’s training and, because there are only 24 hours in a day, I have to find ways to make it healthy for me, too. I want to work smarter and not harder, so I find ways that I can incorporate the two activities – my health and my pup’s training. More motivation for me to get off the couch and more motivation for me to be consistent with my dog training. Win-win, right?

I’d be lying if I said it is easy or convenient. It is certainly something that I have to work on. Every. Single. Day.

It’s so much easier to take her for a leisurely walk than to work on the training, but if I want to keep training as a focus, it has to happen.

Three dogs laying in grass outside of home.

Abby laying in the backyard with her friends from the neighbourhood, “Ronin” the St. Bernard and “Oscar” the Boxer. Their play time counts towards her active time (some down time for me!).

My dog trainer recommends 15-20 minutes per day to focus on training and to make it fun. There are lots of benefits to me for this investment:

  • Get outside
  • More obedient dog
  • More quality time spent with my dog can lead to a better overall relationship
  • Sunshine (Vitamin D) (depending on where you live!)
  • Fresh air

As a bonus, I’m rarely back in the house after those 15-20 minutes. The training usually just pulls me away from zoning out on the couch after work. And, as much as I want to do this some days, my commitment to working with her forces me to go outside and look at the trees, hear the birds, and explore the nooks and crannies of my yard and my neighbourhood. We poke around in the yard together, I can pull a few weeds (better gardens!), explore the neighbourhood trails for signs of new wildlife (I live in a rural area and will commonly see signs of moose, deer, coyotes and more), meet and chat with my neighbours (social interactions and building community), and – last but not least – I get a lot more physical activity than I would otherwise (more steps on my tracker!).

Sneaker next to moose track in dirt.

Fresh moose track on the trails behind our house.

I’m not saying that a dog will give you all these benefits. My dog is a lot of hard work and she is a serious commitment (one that doesn’t go away in the dead of winter in -20 C!). Daily, I have to find ways to keep her and I motivated to keep active and socialized. But, getting her is truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Do you have a dog? How does s/he help you and your health?

If you don’t have a dog, what kinds of things do you do to prompt you to get health benefits or do healthy things?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.

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