You may avoid taking time to relax because it makes you feel lazy, but the reality is that relaxation is actually quite important. This is because relaxing has been shown to improve our quality of life and well-being. For example, it reduces stress, fatigue and inflammation while improving mood, focus and several bodily functions. It's especially important to relax and de-stress if you have a dog, as they are easily affected by our stress and negative emotions. Fortunately, simply owning a dog can lower stress. Often times that's not enough though, so here are 9 ways to relax and de-stress with your dog.
1. Enjoy A Cuddle Session Or Even A Nap
One great way to relax with your dog is with a snuggle session. Many dogs like to cuddle, since being physically close to you makes them feel safe and secure (not to mention the added warmth). Not only does cuddling give you the benefits of physical contact with your dog (lower stress hormones, release of oxytocin, etc.), but you are literally relaxing.
You can also take it one step further and actually nap with your dog. Our dogs are happy to snooze with us since they spend, on average, 50% of their day sleeping anyway. And although humans don't need that much sleep, research shows sleep restores the body and powers the mind. So a quick nap with your pup can not only help you relax, but also reduce fatigue and daytime sleepiness, increase energy and alertness, improve mood and lower stress and depression.
2. Go On A Dog Walk
We know our dogs love walks, but did you know that they have several benefits for humans too? Beyond the many physical benefits it provides, walking has been shown to help relax us and improve our mood through the release of endorphins. While brisk walking is considered moderate aerobic activity (which experts recommend we do at least 150 minutes a week), even slow walking has been shown to help with stress and relaxation. So perhaps you can start reframing your dog walks as ways to help you relax, on top of getting your dog some good exercise and mental stimulation.
3. Have An At-Home Spa Day
What's more relaxing than a spa day? Things like getting a massage, taking a calming bath and being pampered can all promote relaxation and stress-relief for humans and dogs alike. In fact, giving your dog a massage can help you relax as well. This is because studies have shown that simply touching your dog releases oxytocin and endorphins in both you and your pup, as well as other feel-good hormones in your body like serotonin and prolactin.
If your dog enjoys being groomed, you can use that as a way to relax together too. For example, brushing your dog can be a soothing and calming activity for you both. Another option is a warm (but not too hot) bath. This can help release of endorphins from your skin, relax muscles, reduce pain and inflammation, improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, balance body temperature, calm the nervous system and lower stress and anxiety levels.
Pro Tip: To really go all in on a spa day, try playing some relaxing music (see tip #7) and even dog-friendly aromatherapy.
4. Snuggle Up In Front Of The TV
Watching TV with your dog can be another great way to relax after a long day. Some research has shown that watching TV and other visual media for a short while can help recharge the brain and relax us by giving a momentary escape from our stress and anxiety. This is especially true when rewatching our favorite TV series because the aspect of reliability and predictability from a familiar plot and beloved characters can provide comfort. On the other hand, you may want to avoid the news or action and horror genres, as these can trigger stress hormones. Not every dog will actually watch the programs with you, but all dogs will enjoy the quality time spent together.
Pro Tip: For the best chance for your dog to actually watch TV with you, try putting on a program with dogs and other animals or sports.
5. Get Away In Nature
Being outside provides mental and physical benefits for both you and your dog. For example, it provides our dogs with exercise and mental stimulation, a Vitamin D boost, minimized boredom and anxiety, and more. For us, the list of benefits is long, from physical benefits (like boosting the immune system, increasing Vitamin D, reducing inflammation, improving energy levels, relaxing the body etc.) to mental ones (like improving mood and mental health, reducing stress and depression, restoring mental energy levels and relieving "mental fatigue" and relaxing the mind ).
For even more relaxation, try getting out in nature where it's quiet and away from the hustle and bustle. You two can go for a shorter nature walk, a longer hike or even take a nap outside if you live in a quieter area. Just make sure to properly protect your dog (and you) from the sun and potential sunburn when relaxing out in nature.
Pro Tip: Research has shown that simply looking at images of nature and greenery can promote relaxation and stress-relief. So if you and your dog can't physically get away in nature, try doing so mentally and emotionally with images and nature sounds.
6. Stretch It Out
Have you ever noticed how many times your dog stretches? Dogs don't just stretch often because they nap often - they also do it to greet you, indicate a desire to play, as part of a mating ritual and to relax. But there are many benefits to stretching for both dogs and humans. Specific relaxation and stress-relief benefits of stretching include releasing muscle tension and tension headaches, increasing blood flow, calming the mind, relaxing the body and reducing mental fatigue. How do you stretch with your dog? A few ideas: next time you see your dog take a big stretch, simply join them. Or turn on some yoga and stretching videos and your dog will likely join you on the floor.
7. Listen To Music
Studies have shown that music can be a great way to relax and de-stress because it affects our emotions and reduces stress levels. For example, fast music can increase alertness and concentration, upbeat music can improve optimism and positivity and slower music can soothe and relax our body and mind. Research has specifically suggested that music can lower our heart rate and cortisol levels, release endorphins, reduce physical and emotional stress by distracting us, and more. But we're not the only ones who benefit from music - according to research, music can also reduce canine stress. Some signs of lower stress in dogs included less barking, as well as lower respiratory rates and cortisol levels. That being said, research has also shown that dogs prefer classical music, so that's likely your best bet for you both to relax most.
8. Paint With Your Pup
Painting is a relaxing activity with several mental health benefits. It allows the body and mind to slow down and relax, thus reducing stress and relieving mental strain. It also helps people process and understand their emotions, often leading to emotional release and healing. And now you and your dog can relax together through painting, thanks to pet-safe paints and art sets. Just double check that you're using these non-toxic paints and always wash their paws thoroughly when done, since we know how much dogs tend to lick themselves.
Pro Tip: Put down a tarp under the canvas or paper so you can catch any paint mess that's bound to happen.
9. Breathe Deeply And Intentionally
Deep breathing is a well-known mechanism for relaxing and reducing stress. This is because it activates your parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" system) to stimulate relaxation and counteract the stress responses from your sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" system). It can also lower blood pressure as well as reduce tension and pain, especially from headaches and migraines. But deep breathing isn't just for humans, it can also help our dogs relax. It does so by slowing their heart rate and relaxing their diaphragm and body.
One way to try deep breathing with your dog, is to sit or stand in front of them and practice your own deep breathing. They may mimic you, especially as they reflect your overall state of relaxation. But you can also teach them to deep breathe on command. This is especially helpful if your dog gets stressed. Here are some steps to do so, according to University of Pennsylvania veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall:
- Start by asking your dog to sit and look at your for a treat that you hold at your eyes.
- Quickly move the treat a few inches in front of your dog's nose but don't give the treat.
- Say your cue word ("breathe," "deep breath," "relax," etc.)
- Watch your dog carefully to see when their nostrils flare (which means stressed dogs won't be panting at that moment), say "yes" as soon as possible after, give the treat and provide praise.
- Repeat to get these steps down.
- Once your dog improves at responding to the "breathe" request, begin to delay giving the treat a few seconds at a time. This will allow your dog to take practice intentional breathing on command and promote relaxation.