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Paws for Recovery: How Dogs Help Us in Recovery

Updated: Mar 31

a dog in the woods looking downward toward his human

(*This post contains an affilate link)Hey there, fellow dog lovers and anyone on the journey to sobriety! If you're like me, you've probably discovered the incredible power of our four-legged friends in navigating the ups and downs of this crazy thing we call life! My article was inspired by my dad, who is an alcoholic.  Recently, I lost my older doggie. I was so devastated. When my dad came to see me, he told me how all his grand-dogs were instrumental in his recovery journey. I am so proud of how far my dad has come. So let's bark about something close to my heart-how these furry therapists can play an important role in maintaining a sober lifestyle. If you liked this article check out my other one on How dogs can support mental health.  If you or someone you know needs help please call for support at 1-800-662-4357.

How Dogs Help Us In Recovery #1 : Fun Routine

You've probably heard that dogs thrive on routine. Guess what? So do people, especially those of us on the path to recovery. The thing is, addicts have a little bit of rebel in them. When someone tells you to do something, it just makes you not want to do it. Also, real life can feel boring and dreadful. This is especially true when trying to say goodbye to alcohol. Having a dog can make routine fun.   From regular walks to feeding times, your pup becomes your sobriety sidekick, nudging you toward a more balanced life. When life gets chaotic, having something that you can expect can bring a sense of calmness. A solid routine can help your brain feel regulated. I have found that a doggie routine can also keep you busy on your free time. If you have an afternoon to yourself, taking care of your dog can keep you from getting idle hands, or too lost in thought. This is because your doggie is counting on you. Whenever I had to go shopping with my mom I would leave my dog at the house and my dad would take care of her. He would take her on walks, bathe her, and play with her in the backyard. Taking care of his grand-dogs gave my dad a fun and healthy responsibility. The dogs helped to keep him busy and they were the cutest and most lighthearted way of keeping him accountable. 

#2 A Dogs' Incredible Presence 

A woman at a picnic with her dog

Alright, picture this: You've had a tough day. You bombed your presentation, the stakeholders questioned your interpretation of the data you spent weeks putting together. Then your daughter’s daycare called, wanting you to pick her up immediately because of her fever. Then your check engine light comes on, just when you think you got all your dollar bills in order. You feel angry, and you are starting to hate the world again. On your drive home, you start to imagine sitting on the couch with a glass of wine! The problem is that you can’t have that glass of wine. That will send you down a dark spiral. But then, when you pull in the driveway, you see your little fur baby look out the window. She is bouncing up and down excited to see you! YOU! You open the door and there your dog is, wagging tail, and all. “I have been waiting all day to see you!” Dogs have this magical ability to be the ultimate comfort buddies. You pet your dog and your dog's tail wags even faster. She brings you her leash. So, thankfully instead of going straight to the kitchen to pour yourself a drink, you go for a walk. You breathe in the fresh evening air, as your dog's little butt wiggles back and forth. In that moment, you are reminded of everything you are grateful for. Dogs do not prevent relapse, but it is much easier to say no to that glass of wine. Just them sitting on the couch looking cute can bring a sense of calm and understanding, helping you ride out those challenging moments without relying on substances. My dad, no matter how much of a rough day he had, could always look forward to coming home to our doggies. 

#3 You have entered the judgment-free zone:

If you have ever gone to adopt a dog, the dog won’t ask how many times you have messed up. They don’t ask you about your credit score, your GPA, your search history, or all the lies you have told to your family over the years.  They are just excited that a human has come to see them. Dogs are pack animals; when they are in the shelter, they just want to be part of a family again. As long as you can provide a good home for a dog you can have one. Addictions cause painful devastation to families. Family members affected by alcoholism are hurting. The kind of horrific pain you wish you could just wake up from. That hurt can cause a sense of sadness and failure in the person using it. There were some days I couldn’t even look at my dad. Even though we are in a better place now, I am still working through a tidal wave of feelings when it comes to my dad. On the worst days, it was good to have a playful fur-ball who could offer him no judgment at all. Only, doggie cuddles and kisses. 

#4 Social Connection on Four Legs:

Just the other day, I left one of my dogs Ollie at my parent’s house. My dad hopped on his AA Zoom meeting with Ollie sitting right next to him. My dad said that he always loved when one of his grand-dogs could go on a meeting with him. My dad has even seen people bring their dogs to in-person meetings. Taking that first step and finally going to a meeting can be scary. Especially if you struggle with anxiety. Having a dog with you whether they go to your meeting or not can be an encouragement when you are nervous. 

When you decide to strike out on a new path you might feel like the odd one out with your friends. It can feel isolating when all your old friends hit the bar after work, and you are the only one who’s not running up your tab. Or you're at your cousin's wedding and the family has noticed you avoiding the open bar.  Maybe your friends aren't taking your sobriety seriously and they can't see how drinking is terrifying your spouse. That’s where your paw pals run in to save the day.  Dogs can help you meet lots of new people. Dog people are some of the best people. Many are empathetic and have big hearts. Many of them will be supportive of your journey. Pets are always a good topic to talk about with other people as well. When you are at work or school and you hear someone war storying about how drunk they got over the weekend, you can segue the topic into pets. Pets are an easy lighthearted way to connect with all different kinds of people. 

#5 Milestone Celebration Buddy:

a birthday party for two dogs

Sometimes the day can be so hard, you just have to take it an hour at a time. Just making it to lunchtime can be a victory for you. It’s important to celebrate all those wins and milestones. What could be better than celebrating a win with your pup? This can be incredibly meaningful especially if you are working on repairing the relationships in your life. When you hit a milestone, take your furry friend for a puppuccino while you enjoy your favorite coffee! 

#6 Exercise and All the good Dopamine 

My two-year-old dog has two modes; extremely hyper crazy when he is outside and lazy couch potato when we are inside. There is no in-between. I enjoy that about him. But even the calmest movie-loving doggies need exercise. And so do you, my dear friend. The first step to living the life you were meant to live is LITERALLY taking that step... and then another step. Your brain is in desperate need of a healthy source of dopamine and serotonin. The best part about exercise with dogs is that you get a double dose of healthy brain chemicals, one from just being with your pup and two, the exercise itself. Even on the hard days, a quick walk in the park or running around your yard with your dog will ensure you both are getting the movement you need.  You could even turn the music up and have a little dance party with your dog (yes, dogs are fantastic dance partners).

#7 There is Power in the Paws:

So, if you are an awesome recovery warrior, and you're thinking about adding a furry friend to your support team, just go for it! If you already have a dog, jot down all the ways that they have been helpful on your journey. Our dogs provide love and comfort when we humans just can't do it. The help they provide making routines fun, exercise, and social perks they bring is irreplaceable. Our pups have this amazing ability to guide us with their paws, their big puppy eyes, and their insane energy when we come home. They are furry, adorable angels, leading you towards a brighter, sober future. Here's to the healing power of puppy paws and the incredible worthwhile journey ahead! Leave a comment for me if your dog has helped in your recovery journey! 🐾✨

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article on the amazing way dogs can help us on our recovery journey. If you enjoyed reading and like the work that I do, consider helping me by clicking on my link for a free workshop video! The workshop teaches you ways that you can teach your dog to be as clam as a service dog. So if you are interested in nurturing calm and supportive behavior in your pup, give it a watch.

a girl in her hammock petting her dog

Hi! I am Paulie D. from Notes from My Hammock. I write about living authentically, mindfulness, wellness, self expression and how our Dogs tie in to that!

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