Pets and Mental Wellness: Daniel Caughill Of The Dog Tale On How to Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Pets and Mental Wellness: Daniel Caughill Of The Dog Tale On How to Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet


Plan your pet’s perfect day. If you feel like you’re in a rut and you don’t know what to do to get out of it, plan your pet’s perfect day. Order your dog a pup cup at the cafe, walk them to the dog park, and then allow them to pick out a new toy at the pet store. Spending time giving your furry friend the best day ever can have an effect on you, too.

Pets have always been more than just companions; they play a pivotal role in enhancing our mental well-being. From the unconditional love of a dog to the calming presence of a cat, pets have a unique way of alleviating stress, anxiety, and loneliness. But how do we truly harness the therapeutic potential of our furry, feathered, or scaled friends? How can they aid in promoting mindfulness, reducing depression, or even enhancing social interactions? In this interview series, we are talking to veterinarians, psychologists, therapists, pet trainers, and other experts who can shed light on how to maximize the mental health benefits of having a pet. As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Daniel Caughill.

Daniel is a dog boarder and one of the co-founders of The Dog Tale. He has been featured on ABC News, Mashable, Readers Digest, The Strategist,,, SFGate, MSN, Yahoo!, NASDAQ, MassMutual, and LendingTree.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we start, our readers would love to get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

Igrew up in a small, rural town in southeastern Pennsylvania. I think our town had more cows than people. I grew up playing with dogs, cats, chickens, and horses.

Now I live in New York City, so that’s a pretty big shift. But I still spend a decent chunk of every day outside in the park playing with my dog.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It’s pretty weird being interviewed for podcasts and TV news segments. The imposter syndrome is real. But most people just need somebody who has put some thought into how to care for their pet, to nudge them in the right direction. I’m happy to help!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Oh, that’s tough. I’m a big lover of fiction, and there are so many powerful books that come to mind. Many of them you would recognize, but one less common book I loved was “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra. It’s one of those books that shows you how to find beauty and hope in the world in the midst of some of the worst imaginable circumstances.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now lets move to the main focus of our interview. Can you share a personal story about how a pet has helped you or someone you know to improve mental wellness?

My grandfather has had a rescue dog for as long as I can remember. He’s an extremely hardworking man who has worked in churches, on farms, in a home for foster kids. Somebody like that seems strong from the outside, but he’s also experienced more than one hardship in his life and his ever-present dogs have brought him a sense of calm that roots him in his daily practices.

While human interaction is essential for emotional well-being, in what ways do interactions with pets offer unique benefits that human relationships might not provide?

Pets will give you unconditional love and individual attention in a way that few humans do. They’re pretty good listeners, too, since they can’t talk back. A pet is no replacement for human relationships, but they can play a big role in your overall mental health.

Can you explain how this works? How do pets, particularly common ones like dogs and cats, biologically and psychologically help to alleviate human stress levels and anxieties?

Multiple studies that show how animals can support human mental health as emotional support animals. There may be a variety of reasons for this, but the clinical explanation is that interacting with pets helps produce oxytocin — one of the chemicals our brain produces to reduce depressive emotions and increase our sense of bonding, among other things.

This goes for pretty much all people. However, two groups, especially, can benefit from the mental health effects of pets: children and seniors.

Pets can help boost mental & physical health in kids

At a time when kids face unprecedented social anxiety and peer pressure at school and on social media, evidence is emerging that pets are excellent aids for people struggling with mental health.

Additionally, some pets, such as dogs, require physical action. This action is wonderful for both physical and mental health. In fact, pet ownership is linked with having a lower body mass index (BMI). It’s well understood that physical exercise can boost mental health, so taking your dog for regular walks can help get teens out in nature and boost the release of oxytocin and dopamine that follows exercise or play. This can combat anxiety and stress.

Pets improve a senior’s mental health

One of the most common and heartbreaking parts of aging is a tragic sense of loneliness. Seniors often spend significant amounts of time at home alone. And even if they’re not alone, they’re at a point in their life when their career is done and many of their friends and family have passed on.

One of the best tools for combatting senior loneliness is caring for a pet. Grandkids are a joy to most seniors, but they can only visit for so long. However, a dog or cat will faithfully stay by their owner’s side for life, with all the affection they can give.

On top of that, caring for a pet daily gives seniors a sense of purpose. The owner will have a dependent to feed, entertain, and walk on a daily basis, and this sense of purpose, companionship, and daily exercise can go a long way in preventing loneliness, anxiety, and stress.

In the backdrop of global events like pandemics or natural disasters, how have you seen pets playing a role in alleviating anxiety and providing comfort? Can you share some instances where pets have been integrated into therapeutic practices? How do they complement traditional therapeutic techniques?

Pets have been shown to provide unique support to those struggling with their mental health, so much so that 60% of mental health patients have named their pets as the most important factor to their health.

While they are no replacement for professional therapeutic support, pets will spend the entire day by your side if you want them to. This brings a sense of companionship that few other techniques can provide.

Additionally, pets can provide a sense of purpose and structure to your day, and a reason to take care of yourself. Dogs, for example, need to be fed and walked several times per day. This forces pet owners to get out of bed and stay active, which can support mental health.

Not all pets are dogs or cats. From birds to fish to reptiles, how can individuals choose the right pet that aligns with their mental health needs?

Not all animals provide all of the same benefits. For example, a pet snake isn’t going to force you to exercise. However, that doesn’t mean that caring for the pet of your choosing can’t still provide you with a sense of purpose. Your pet of choice may have something to do with the animals you grew up with. Or it could be the same species that a loved one once had. Or maybe the chirping of a certain type of bird will remind you of where you grew up. Only you can know what type of animal speaks to your sense of happiness and belonging.

But, all other things being equal, I think the affection, play, and exercise dogs require makes them one of the best emotional support animals.

How does the act of taking care of a pet — feeding, grooming, exercising — contribute to an individual’s sense of purpose and mental well-being?

The exercise element is pretty straightforward but also one of the most important. Exercise doesn’t just improve your physical health; it improves your mental health as well. It helps you feel better, which fends off health scares, and it produces serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, which directly affect your mood.

Aside from exercise, the daily structure of caring for a pet can help provide a sense of purpose. If you don’t get out of bed and feed your cat or walk your dog, they won’t thrive. They only thrive with you, and they want to interact with you. Belonging to them, and them belonging to you, on a daily basis can help root you in a better place than laying in bed and watching endless episodes of Netflix ever could.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. From your experience or research, what are your Five Ways To Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet?” Can you please share a story or example for each?

1 . Take training seriously. If your pet isn’t well trained, they’re going to add avoidable stress to your life. I’m going to use my pet as an example. We trained him as a puppy in a few crucial behavioral areas. But then the training fell off. Now, as an adult, we’re dealing with the fact that he pulls on the leash and tries to gobble up just about every semi-edible thing we pass. These create scares when there is traffic, our hands are full, or he eats something that could be dangerous. We’re working on improving these behaviors now, but we wish we had tackled them when he was younger. But on top of preventing behavioral issues, training forces you to spend a lot of disciplined time with your pet, during which you’ll see real goals accomplished. This feels good.

2 . Pets are the perfect excuse. Social interactions are important for mental health. But, sometimes, certain interactions and plans can be more than you can handle that day. If you’re feeling drained or a little socially anxious, you can always use your pet as an excuse to decline an invitation or head home early! You know exactly the scenarios I’m talking about. Just make sure you don’t use your pet as a crutch to prevent building meaningful relationships.

3 . Plan your pet’s perfect day. If you feel like you’re in a rut and you don’t know what to do to get out of it, plan your pet’s perfect day. Order your dog a pup cup at the cafe, walk them to the dog park, and then allow them to pick out a new toy at the pet store. Spending time giving your furry friend the best day ever can have an effect on you, too.

4 . Plan playdates. If you have a pet, you probably have a friend or loved one with pets as well. Plan a playdate with each other’s pets. They’ll love it, and you’ll be forced to have some meaningful social interaction that can help you nurture your relationships and emotional safety nets. If you don’t have friends with the same type of pet as you, look for pet meetups in your area. You can often find meetups for the exact breed of animal you have.

5 . Work your pet into a workout routine. If you have a larger dog breed, work them into your workout routine. A daily run can do wonders for your mental health, and if you have a dog whining at the door when it’s time to run, you’ll have a harder time skipping it that day.

The loss of a pet can be deeply traumatic. How can individuals navigate this grief, and how does it compare to other forms of loss in terms of mental health impact?

This is difficult to answer because no two people experience grief in exactly the same way. But the truth is that pets are family members, and losing them can create a deep sense of loss. One thing I’d remind those who have lost a pet is that while they were only present for a small slice of your life, you were their entire world. Their absence hurts. But from their perspective, they were with you till the end.

All you can do is move forward and remember them. This may mean taking a few months or years off of pet ownership, adopting again right away, or even volunteering at a shelter to help other needy pets. Helping another animal is a great way to memorialize your pet.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of peace to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

We live in a world with a lot of “othering.” We do it politically, racially, religiously; this is a silly example, but we even do it with pets, sorting people into “dog people” and “cat people.” The impulse in our brains to sort each other into in-groups and out-groups is a huge source of mental health issues, as well as all sorts of physical and economic harm.

The truth is, almost nothing in this world is black and white, and I wish more people were comfortable with holding onto their identities loosely, so they could make room for others who may be different.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

This is another tough question because there are so many right answers. But the first that came to mind is author Neil Gaiman. He has been one of my favorite novelists for most of my life. He has a way of tapping into humor and imagination in a refreshingly original way, and that feels rare sometimes.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find us at

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at

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