When I first heard that depression often coexisted with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), I couldn’t understand why. After my young daughter’s official ADHD diagnosis though, I was able to witness firsthand all of the hardships and struggles ADHD comes with for children and believe me, there are many. Day after day, I see my daughter try her best to pay attention and do well on her school assignments and tests, yet she isn’t able to make the Honor Roll. Day after day, I see my daughter trying to fit in with the “cool kids” at school, only to be rejected and ridiculed. Day after day, I see disappointment, frustration, and defeat in my daughter’s eyes and it absolutely kills me.
It was a big decision for my husband and I to give our daughter medication for her ADHD. It just didn’t sit right with me to be giving my then five year old such powerful medication. She hadn’t even lost her first tooth yet, but she would be a master at swallowing pills every morning. I had a very difficult time wrapping my head around that. My husband, who also has ADHD, was against medication at first as well. He wanted to see if behavioral therapy alone would help our daughter. Although the behavioral therapy was beneficial, I felt like our daughter wasn’t quite mature enough to apply what she learned without her doctor or parents there to coach her. After deciding to put our daughter on medication, she was finally able to focus much better in school and stop herself from bouncing off the walls, which I am sure her teachers appreciated, although none of them ever pressured us into medicating our child. This was solely my husband’s and my decision and it wasn’t for our benefit or the teacher’s benefit. It was completely for our daughter’s benefit.
Although my daughter’s ADHD was being managed through medication, behavioral therapy, and my husband and I making sure she had all of the right tools and resources, her depression didn’t go away. She was constantly negative about anything and everything. She could turn a happy moment into a stressful one in a matter of seconds. No matter how positive I tried to be with her, it was like a storm cloud hung over her and was preventing her from enjoying the sunshine in her life. She took very little joy in the things she used to love, such as drawing or swinging outside. It was truly heartbreaking. Giving her even more medication to treat her depression was out of the question for us, so we did our best to love her and provide her with a happy and supportive home, but that didn’t seem to cut it. I was at a loss. There were many nights when I cried myself to sleep thinking about my daughter’s depression and wondering if it was caused by something I did.
One day, my husband came to me in private and told me he had an idea to help our daughter with her depression. He said he thought we should get our daughter a dog to which I quickly replied, “No,” followed by a “No, no, no, no, no.” If you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, you already know how stressful and hectic life can be, so adding a pet that I knew would primarily be my responsibility did not sound like fun to me at all. My husband then proceeded to explain how having a dog would be beneficial to our daughter and help with her depression. His two main reasons were:
- Unconditional Love. When my daughter comes home from school, the dog would be so happy to see her and want to spend time with her. The dog would always be genuinely happy and excited to be around our daughter all the time. Our daughter would never have to worry about being judged, because the dog would accept her 100% and love her just the way she is.
- Friendship. If our daughter has a bad day at school, she could cuddle with the dog and let it all out, whether that means crying, talking about what happened and her feelings, or both. Of course the dog can’t talk back, but it can definitely lend its ears. Cuddling and playing with the dog would also release oxytocin, which is known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” and would help her feel happier
They sounded like very good reasons, but I was still unsure. My daughter was only six years old and not very responsible, so I knew the dog would be my responsibility and I already had my plate full. After researching how dogs can be therapeutic for people with depression and anxiety and thinking about how much I wanted to help my little girl, I decided to go with my husband’s idea and get a dog. I knew going in that the dog would take up a lot of my time and money, but I was willing to sacrifice in order to help my daughter. Besides, I have always loved dogs. I had an adorable Cocker Spaniel when I was a kid and having a new four legged friend would be fun for the whole family.
I researched what breeds of dogs would be best for our family and lifestyle and I decided to go with a Puggle, which is half Pug and half Beagle. Puggles are very playful and have a lot of energy (just like my daughter) and are also great cuddlers and make good companions. As soon as I saw Lollipop (That’s what our daughter named her) at The Puppy Place, I instantly fell in puppy love with her and bought her.
When my daughter first held our then two month old puppy, Lollipop wouldn’t stop licking her face, which put a permanent smile on my daughter’s face. I cannot tell you how ecstatic that made my heart feel! Not only did I feel happy, I also felt relief and hope.
My husband and I saw an immediate change in our daughter’s personality and attitude after we brought Lollipop home. Our daughter was a happy little girl again filled with love and laughter. It was as if Lollipop knew why she was brought to our family, which is absolutely amazing. Our daughter and Lollipop were inseparable. They wanted to spend every waking moment together. Heck, they wanted to spend every non-waking moment together too! We let Lollipop sleep in her crate next to our daughter’s bed. During the day, our daughter would play with Lollipop, do her homework next to her, and cuddle with her. It has been eight months since we brought Lollipop home and I think it is safe to say that our daughter is no longer depressed and it is primarily because of our wonderful pup.
Having Lollipop here has not only helped our daughter with her depression, it has helped her with her ADHD in a number of ways:
Responsibility. Like I knew would happen, I am the one taking primary care of our dog, which is fine, because I love that little pup to pieces, but I have given my daughter certain responsibilities to handle. She handles picking up the dog’s toys and putting them back in her toy basket, checking to see if the dog has food and clean water in her bowls, and helping pick up doggy doodoo outside. She has also learned that leaving her dolls out where the dog can reach is a big no-no, so she makes sure that she puts her own toys away.
- Patience. My daughter loves to teach our dog tricks, but she quickly realized that it would take time for our dog to perfect these tricks. Instead of getting frustrated or angry, she has learned to be patient with our dog and keep practicing with her. (When my daughter is having difficulty with a homework assignment, I remind her to be patient with herself, just like she is patient with Lollipop.)
- Social Interaction. I love my daughter, but I admit she can be a bit socially awkward, because she is not good at picking up social cues from her peers. Instead of introducing herself to another child at the park and asking if they’d like to play with her for example, she will just start randomly talking to them about a YouTube video she saw. Now when we go to the park, we bring our dog and kids will come up to us and ask about our dog. My daughter absolutely loves this, because she can answer all of their questions and it is a great “icebreaker,” a way for her to meet and interact with people.
- Exercise. Since both my daughter and my dog have excess energy to burn, they love playing and running around together. Not only does exercising increase endorphins levels, which makes my daughter feel happy, it also increases dopamine levels, which help her focus better.
Although I was reluctant about the idea at first, I am so happy that I listened to my husband and got our daughter a dog. I see how having Lollipop in our lives benefits my daughter every single day and it warms my heart. That storm cloud doesn’t hang over my daughter’s head anymore. It’s been mostly sunshine and rainbows with Lollipop around. There are of course some downsides to having a dog though, from the small – like getting her fur all over my black shirt – to the big – like unexpected veterinarian bills. The way I see it is this: As a therapeutic alternative to medication, we got a dog in the hope that it would help with our daughter’s depression and it worked. I am not saying that getting a dog will absolutely cure anyone’s depression, but if your lifestyle and budget would allow it, I would definitely recommend it.
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