With an energetic 7-months-old puppy in the house eating all the remote controls he can find (seven!!), I have made it my mission in life to keep this pup occupied. Along with all the walks, bones, and training sessions, we're doing the best thing of all -- we go to the dog park every day. (Unless it’s raining. A muddy dog park equals muddy dog which equals a lot of cleaning for Erika.)
The dog park is a wonderful place where, as I’m sure you know, dogs can run around off-leash to their heart's content. However, dogs aren't the only ones who can benefit from it!
1. The nature
First of all, dog parks are outside. Fresh air, hopefully sunshine -- all the good stuff that can be hard to come by if you work inside. Dog parks are usually surrounded by trails and bodies of water, so take advantage of that to get some exercise. If you don’t have it in you that day, there are loads of benches in the dog park. Enjoy your nature experience with no more walking involved than what it takes to get there from your car.
Spending time in nature boosts your immune system, improves your mood, reduces stress, improves your sleep, and can even speed up recovery from surgery or an illness. So go take advantage of all those free health boosters!
Photo by Anita Peeples
2. The dogs
Then we have, of course, the dogs. If you’ve ever gone to a dog park, or just strolled by, you know the absolute joy that radiates from it. Wagging tails, big grins, and exuberant joy because you --you!-- are there to pet them!
Petting a friendly dog has shown to reduce your stress levels faster than drugs with that purpose, showing a difference within just 5-25 minutes, according to Psychology Today. And is there any better than spending time with dogs? Just sit there and look at how fully they immerse themselves in the moment. I know that they're dogs, and they don't have to worry about work or grocery lists or taxes, but mindfulness has been proven again and again to be extremely important for our mental well-being, so take your cue from the puppers walking around focusing every fiber of their being on the smell of a pinecone.
I used to be a cat person, mainly because we only had cats growing up and my best friend had a really scary German Shepherd, but somewhere along the road (when I was living in Spain, I distinctly remember) I suddenly felt that "aaaw, I want one!" feeling whenever a dog passed me on the street that is usually attributed to seeing babies. It was another five years before I was in a situation where I could get a dog, but it was well worth the wait!
Sometimes I like to just sit on a bench and watch all the dogs interact with each other. They have such distinct personalities, and just watching animals enjoy themselves so much makes me sit there with a blissful little smile on my lips. It's almost a form of meditation for me.
Photo by Patrick Hendry
3. The humans
Puppies and social interaction in one neat package. Dog owners are in general quite friendly, and you have an endless supply of conversation materials running all around you.
“What kind of dog is that?”
“How old is he/she?”
“Who’s a good boy?!” (This one should be directed to one of the dogs -- you probably don’t want to greet a stranger with this. Or maybe they’re having a terrible day and this is exactly what they need to hear? Who knows!)
In my dog park we have a steady 4pm group, a.k.a. the Working People. Having been gone all day they quickly usher their puppers to the dog park the moment they get home, often not even taking the time to change out of their uniforms or work attire. A perk for me, who obviously could go at any given time, is that I know exactly when the busiest time will be. There’s nothing better than watching your dog tear through the enclosed area with a pack of fifteen dogs, exerting all that energy our walks can’t help him with.
This is a great chance for you to get to know these people and maybe even become real friends. It can be hard to find friends outside work, and here you have a bunch you see on a daily basis! Maybe you can find people to go on hikes or have a cup of coffee with.
Photo by Jorge Flores
4. The emotional support
If you suffer from depression, you know how deliberating it can be. Even if you know what would make it better (exercise, healthy food, social interaction), chances are that you don’t have the energy to even think about pursuing them.
If you are well enough to make yourself leave the house though, going to the dog park is a good, easy habit to build.
When you enter a dog park you are usually greeted by at least 5+ dogs before you’re even through the door. Talk about feeling welcome! If you’ve ever had anxiety about going to a party alone, there’s no need here; they love you unconditionally. Even if you haven't managed to do laundry for two weeks.
Petting a dog (or any animal, even turtles!) releases oxytocin, the "feel-good" hormone, and lowers your cortisol levels. Owning one yourself is of course the best, since you get daily interaction, a sense of purpose and being needed, and a routine with feeding and walks, but sometimes your lifestyle or economical situation just doesn't allow it. So getting a regular dose of some puppy-love is the next best thing!
Just sit on a bench and watch the animals playing around you. Pet dogs that come up to you. Exchange some pleasantries if you feel like it, but don't feel pressured; it's totally okay to just sit on your own. Pay attention to the wind on your skin, the feel of soft fur under your fingers, the joy that infuses the place. Take a bit of it with you home and let it fuel you until next time.
Photo by Adam Griffith
5/18/2021 08:30:55 am
I love how you can release oxytocin by petting a dog. My wife was telling me how she has been feeling down lately. Maybe I can convince her to get a dog so our home can feel more relaxed.
8/20/2021 10:04:45 am
Hi Chris, I'm sorry for the late reply, I just found out my notifications have not been working!!
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Hi, I'm Erika!
I know what it's like living with anxiety and depression, but living and living are very different things. I believe in practical tips and methods, and I will use them to help you be the brave, daring, darling individual you are.
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