Dudes and Dogs Walk and Talk is an organization that pairs men with a trained volunteer and a dog, where men can talk about their feelings or simply enjoy the fresh air with their furry pals.
Even today, when the conversation about mental health has finally ventured out into the open, men still find it substantially harder to seek help. Gender roles firmly established over centuries dissuade them from showing any form of vulnerability and not being able to even address or talk about their mental health troubles further adds to their suffering. 38-year-old Rob Osman from Bristol, England spent most of his life unable to confide in his loved ones about the social anxiety and depression he's battled from a very young age. He finally had a breakthrough last year when he realized that the remedy to his troubles was right before his eyes.
Now when he feels the anxiety creeping in, Osman heads out the door with his Hungarian Vizsla, Mali, in tow. Being out in the open air with his dog, he feels his tension melt away as the two simply walk. "I’m not saying anything new when I say going into the fresh air makes you feel better," Osman told TODAY. "Just the realization of just how beneficial that time with the dog has been."
It all began about a year ago when having given up his corporate job to focus on his family and study psychology at a local university, Osman's life was going through a rather stark transition. He realized that walking Mali helped him cope with the demons he'd dealt with most of his life. Medication hadn't helped much when he experienced anxiety and depression in the past, but somehow, taking walks with Mali made him feel considerably better. "She has helped me mentally and physically, her love is unwavering and no matter how you feel when you come home she instantly makes me happy," he explained.
Realizing the incredible benefits of these walks, Osman soon began inviting his friends to join him. It didn't take long for him to realize that his pals were also benefiting from the dog and fresh air. He began toying with the idea of expanding this model to help more men. Thus began Dudes and Dogs Walk and Talk—an organization that pairs men with a trained volunteer and a dog. Participating men can talk about their feelings or simply enjoy the fresh air with their furry pals. "They need someone to listen. The idea of using a dog gives people an hour away from the family and gets them out," Osman explained.
"Dogs are like four-legged antidepressants. When people are around the dog they drop their defenses. They play with the dog," he added. Osman's instincts are not misplaced. According to Rustin Moore, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, being around a dog—or any animal for that matter—boosts mood and helps connect people. "Walking a dog is a conversation waiting to happen. People come across the street to pet the dog and then you start having a conversation," Moore explained.
In fact, studies on the subject have shown that interacting with animals has a positive impact on people with PTSD, autism, and dementia. Moreover, dog owners have been found to recover faster from a heart attack or stroke. Although exercise might be one of the factors at play here, Moore believes pets support stress relief. "People’s heart rate, their blood pressure go down as does stress hormones, such as cortisol, and actually there’s a feel-good hormone called oxytocin that actually goes up. It doesn’t even to be your own pet," he said.
Although Dudes and Dogs is still at its early stages, Osman plans to work with psychologists to formulate a robust training for the volunteers to help them guide men toward more help if needed. Once he perfects the program in his hometown, he hopes to have it spread throughout the United Kingdom and, one day, in the United States. He also hopes it will play a part in normalizing mental health care for men. "It gives people the opportunity to realize that it’s not unusual to feel that way," he said. "This is giving them a free space and a relaxed place to talk."