Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affect millions of children and often persist into adulthood. There are a range of symptoms, including difficulty maintaining focus, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. These symptoms and the consequent problems they can create can cause those afflicted to struggle with self-esteem issues, relationship problems, and trouble at school and work.
But did you know that owning a dog may actually help to alleviate some of these symptoms? This guide will illustrate how dogs can give those struggling with ADD/ADHD a way to create healthy and important habits, an outlet to burn off energy, provide a nonjudgmental companion and give opportunity to be more social.
Dogs Help Create Consistency
Creating a routine is important for those with ADD/ADHD for many reasons. Some people treat the condition using medication, which must be taken at the correct times and intervals to help keep symptoms under control. Creating this kind of schedule can be tricky for anyone new to the process, but becoming consistent will create a positive impact on your life outside of treating your symptoms. Consistency makes it easier for you to establish your goals and decipher what you need to do each day. It can also make it easier to schedule out the time needed to get each item on your priorities list done.
One symptom of ADD/ADHD is difficulty with staying organized and planning ahead. Adopting a dog requires the owner to maintain a schedule: the dog needs fed, walked and played with on a regular basis. While the idea of creating a schedule seems like a tedious task, it can actually create a pleasant distraction from the everyday stresses that work and school often cause. It could even help with memory and forgetfulness: if you forget to feed him, the pup is going to find a way to let you know!
Implementing a routine can create better habits, such as the ability to make a plan and stick to it. And having one involving a dog can be a fun way to help build these skills — for example, dog owners need to have a plan on what time to be home in order to give their critters a potty break. A schedule involving a pet also provides a positive element on which to focus. It’s a satisfying alternative to merely creating a strict personal time regimen, and it gives you a partner to face the day with. Taking nightly medication may not be something to look forward to, but Fido’s excited tail-wagging for dinner certainly can be!
Providing an Outlet to Burn Off Excess Energy
Hyperactivity is one of the defining symptoms of ADHD, and dogs provide an easy (and fun!) outlet to work off that extra energy. One study found that dog owners spend about 30 minutes more per week exercising. The restless feeling ADHD causes can be frustrating, and running outside with a furry playmate can be a rewarding, healthy way to alleviate it. Pets can also simply compel you to be more active: if Rover has to go potty at 10 o’clock at night, there isn’t much avoiding it.
Taking the dog for a walk and spending time in nature actually have mental benefits in addition to physical benefits. One study showed that exercising with your dog has positive effects on feelings of loneliness and depression. The study found that even when feeling sad in the moment, people felt better simply by going outside. Another study showed that children with attention disorders showed improvement when they had contact with nature.
Playing with your canine can also elevate serotonin and dopamine levels, nerve transmitters known to have positive and calming effects on the body. So whether you’re taking him out for his daily stroll around the neighborhood or looking for a brief escape from the chaos of life, playing with your dog can literally make you feel better. Who knew Rover could be such a great source of therapy?
They’re Always Happy to See You
Those coping with ADD and ADHD often feel lonely and isolated by their condition. It can be frustrating to face struggles that many others don’t experience and can’t understand. It is sometimes difficult for friends and family to recognize that you forgetting to call or forgetting something they’ve told you is not a failure to care, it’s merely a symptom of your disorder. Even those who know you best and love you can be critical, and that can be truly damaging to your self-esteem.
Dogs, unlike people, are completely nonjudgmental. They love you for exactly who and how you are, and their opinions don’t change because of any mistakes you may make. They are fantastic listeners no matter the topic. Pour your heart out to him about whatever is on your mind, and you don’t have to worry about Rover interrupting or giving an unsolicited opinion. Dogs also reduce stress and give us an outlet to be carefree. We tend to be sillier around our pets than friends and family because not only do we worry what other people may think, but silliness often excites your pup into happy playtime. Just blowing off steam by goofing around with your dog can be a great outlet for stress relief. And dogs play for the sake of playing; there’s no competition or pressure to do well.
Dogs also give their owners something positive to focus on. They are a wonderful source of support and increase the ability to cope. This can be especially important not only directly after being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, but also on especially challenging days when symptoms may be flaring up. Instead of coming home and dwelling on the problems you faced at work or school, you can direct your thoughts to walking your best friend and giving him what he needs.
There have been numerous studies that observed the effect dogs have on their owners’ mental states. One found that dog owners tend to simply feel better about life in general. They help fulfill the central social need of belonging, an excellent way to counteract the feelings of isolation ADD and ADHD can cause. They give us a sense of purpose, and make us feel needed and less lonely. Have you ever seen a happier face than that of Fido when you walk in the door? Even after the longest, most challenging days, that smiling face and wagging tail tells you, “I love you! I’m so happy you’re here!” Who doesn’t need or want that every day?
And it’s not just at home that a canine companion can make a difference. One study showed that thinking of your pet when you’re feeling down is as beneficial as thinking of a human friend. Just knowing that someone loves you unconditionally can be a great comfort, especially when facing interpersonal issues with friends, family, or coworkers. Pet owners in general tend to have a greater sense of well-being, and dog owners specifically tend to have higher self-esteem and less stress.
Taking the Stress Out of Social Situations
Approaching someone you don’t know can be an intimidating task for anyone. And in America, approaching strangers is relatively uncommon. This puts extra stress on those who already feel socially isolated, as many with ADD and ADHD do. At what moment do you approach? How do you say hello? And what on Earth do you talk about after that?
Your dog can be an instant icebreaker. Even if he isn’t with you, he can be an easy common denominator to strike up conversation, be it a stranger at the dog park or a friend you’re catching up with at the coffee house. Even if he isn’t with you, it’s an easy topic with which to relate to another. You can be completely different from another person in almost every way, but the love of your furry best friend is something all dog owners can relate to.
Owning a dog can help you socially on a grander scale as well. It can help you build social networks within your community and give opportunity for even more social interaction. Dog play groups are a great way to meet others and prevent you from withdrawing socially. And who knows? Maybe you’ll meet someone you have more in common with than just your dogs. It can be another thing for you to look forward to and help you branch out into more group outings.
Dogs can help repair those strained relationships with friends and family as well. By being a pillar of unconditional support, dogs can teach us how to trust. This can make it easier for you to build upon your current relationships. Maybe you assumed your brother wouldn’t understand the struggles your ADD/ADHD causes, so you never tried talking to him about it. The trust your dog can teach you can help you let others in and confide in them. Feeling secure enough to trust in your loved ones can take an enormous weight off your own shoulders, and it could make all the difference in helping them understand your behavior.
ADD and ADHD symptoms can cause those afflicted all kinds of issues, whether it’s low self-esteem or problems relating to others at work and home. Adopting a dog can be a fantastic way to help cope. Dogs can help you create healthy and important habits, give you an outlet to burn off excess energy, serve as a nonjudgmental confidante and companion, and provide the opportunity to branch out socially. It could be the furriest, most supportive decision you ever make!
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.