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How My Dogs Are Built-In Coping Skills for My Mental Health

Dogs. After having contributed over 50 articles to The Mighty since 2015, I am surprised I have never written a piece about my dogs and their role in my mental health recovery. Today is the day I change that.

I have had four dogs in my family since I was born; currently, I take care of the family dog we got when I was in high school, as well as my own dog that was gifted to me when I graduated college after a tumultuous path through my undergrad. Unfortunately, the challenges did not end there, even if having the dogs as a part of my responsibility was ultimately helpful to my mental health.

I lovingly refer to them as “the girls” or “the pups” (despite their ages being well beyond the puppy years, Penny is 10 and Daisy is 3!). Every day, they are the main reason I have to get up. I am currently not working, but in graduate school with a rather flexible schedule, so I feel if it weren’t for them I would sleep in and be far less productive with my jumpstarting my mornings.

These two dogs, they are not only the perfect responsibility for someone who struggles with depression and a sense of purpose, but they are also built-in coping skills.

I have challenges with unhealthy, impulsive behaviors often associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD), and having the pups there for me is often a great distraction and coping skill. I often take them for a walk, cuddle up on the couch with them, or brush their fur instead of engaging in negative behaviors.

My dogs are also great as not only coping skills and emotional support, but also for my sensory challenges, such as when I am struggling with meltdowns (this can be a part of sensory processing disorder or autism, or even attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Having a dog with soft smooth fur to touch can be very grounding and great for a sensory seeker like myself. I know some people have service dogs for this reason, something I may look into someday, but for now I am content with what my dogs naturally can provide me when I’m at home and in need of sensory and emotional regulation.

Lastly, while my dogs are not trained in any particular tasks, I find having them in my presence, particularly Penny who has a rather gruff bark, to create a sense of safety for me. This is important as someone with trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

The pups — they’re among my best friends, my “kids” in a sense, and I am so grateful for the positive influence they have on my mental health, including getting me up and out for a walk every day, even during the hardest of times.

Original photos by author

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