The 9 Best Dog Breeds That Help With Anxiety, According to Animal Experts
Plus, four dog breeds you may want to avoid if anxiety is a struggle for you.
Man’s best friend is an age-old phrase for many reasons. Just as recent research has confirmed that relationships are the single-biggest contributor to happiness and longevity, science has shown that a bond with a furry companion is powerful for your health—not just physically, but also mentally. One place pets really shine? In helping to manage and reduce anxiety.
That’s true especially for dogs. “Science has shown that petting dogs helps to reduce cortisol levels, the ‘stress hormone’ and simply interacting with dogs can increase oxytocin levels, the same hormone associated with feelings of love,” explains Annette Louviere, DVM, Data and Veterinary Genetics Manager at Wisdom Panel.
How dogs help reduce and prevent anxiety
Dogs can help their owners deal with both the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety, says Nicole Ellis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Lifestyle Expert with Rover.
When you have a panic or anxiety attack, certain changes happen in your body, like a rapid heartbeat, hyperventilating, and tensing your muscles—and your dog can help reverse those, essentially short-circuiting your body’s response to anxiety. “Research shows that when you pet your pup, almost immediately your blood pressure goes down, your heart rate slows, your muscles relax and your breathing can become more regular,” she explains.
Bigger dogs can also be used for “deep pressure therapy” by laying on top of you and triggering your body’s automatic calming response.
Mentally, dogs can give you something to focus on when you’re feeling anxious, provide a fun distraction, and help you feel loved, she says.
Dogs also help prevent anxiety by forcing you to keep a regular daily routine, get regular physical movement, and connect with other people, says Dr. Louviere. Caring for them can also give you a feeling of purpose bigger than yourself.
How to choose a dog to lower anxiety
Not all dogs are created equally though when it comes to calming anxiety and choosing the wrong dog can even make your anxiety worse, says Ellis. Especially as some dogs are prone to anxiety themselves. Here’s what our two experts recommend you look for:
Temperament: Look for a calm and gentle personality
Energy: Dogs with lower energy levels can be soothing while dogs with higher energy levels can be good companions for people who exercise to deal with their anxiety
Size: Small dogs and be snuggly while larger dogs’ size and weight can provide soothing pressure.
Sociality: Look for animals comfortable being around people and are affectionate and friendly
Trainability: Smarter and easier-to-train dogs make better anxiety dogs
Dr. Louviere cautions against dogs who are naturally aloof, shy, strongly independent, stubborn, fearful, or anxious themselves. (Puggle parents, you might know what she means!)
The best dog breeds that help with anxiety
The individual personality of the dog and the connection with their owner are far more important than the breed but there are some dog breeds that are better suited energy-wise and temperament-wise for someone with anxiety, says Ellis. Here are our experts recommendations:
1. Labrador retrievers
Labs are one of the top breeds for service dogs because they are known for being hard working, highly intelligent, and very sensitive to their owner’s body language and mood. “They are great for people who want to be active,” she says. “Plus they love having ‘a job.'” The key with labs is that they are high energy so training is a must,” says Ellis.
“Labs are also outgoing and friendly dogs are also adaptable and good-natured. They bond easily with people and like to be included in all aspects of family life,” says Dr. Louviere.
2. Cavalier King Charles spaniels
“These are smaller so they make great apartment dogs and are usually small enough to travel with which can be useful to people who get anxious away from home,” she says. “They are affectionate and loving and this breed is usually adaptable to being at home or going on adventures with you.”
These beautiful dogs aren’t just for show and actually make ideal dogs for people with anxiety due to their unique combination of smarts, loyalty, and perceptiveness. “These dogs are incredibly smart and tend to form tight bonds with their families,” says Dr. Louviere. “Poodles are particularly good at picking up on the moods of their people thanks to their sensitive nature.”
Looking for a little lap dog to snuggle and keep close when you’re feeling on edge? “This breed is known for being very social, loving to be on laps and around people,” says Ellis. However, note that due to their flat faces they are not best suited for travel or intense exercise.
5. Golden retrievers
Retrievers are the other top breed for service dogs because they are not skittish, are quick learners, relatively easy to train, and are very social and love being around people, says Ellis. “Goldens are eager to please and devoted to their families, making for the most gentle and loving companions,” adds Dr. Louviere.
6. Bernese Mountain Dog
These are the “gentle giants” of the dog world and are perfect for people looking for a larger breed that’s not super high energy. “These pups are good natured and intelligent. They bond strongly with their families and tend to enjoy spending time with their people,” says Dr. Louviere.
Beagles are a mid-sized dog that is small enough to snuggle on your lap but big enough to take for a jog, plus they are, by nature, a very happy breed, says Dr. Louviere. “Beagles are gentle, affectionate and playful, not to mention active and curious, making them wonderful companions, especially for children,” she says.
8. Bichon Frise
Well known for their gentle and cheerful temperaments, these dogs are always ready to shower their person with affection and provide them with a warm lap, says Dr. Louviere. They also live longer than some of the larger breeds on this list, making them a choice for people who are looking for a long-term companion.
9. Lhasa Apso
These pups are both smart and sensitive—the perfect combo for training dogs to recognize and deal with anxiety. They’re also confident and prefer to stay close by to their people, so they can respond to any need quickly, adds Dr. Louviere.
Breeds people with anxiety should avoid
Some breeds are better suited for certain tasks than others and that is especially true for emotional support animals, says Dr. Louviere. If you anxious, she says to avoid breeds known for being independent and distant, including:
- Shiba Inu
- Chow Chow
- Afghan Hound
- Tibetan Mastiff