While the power of walking and talking with other blokes is gaining momentum as an activity that develops social connection and can help address underlying mental health issues, add in a dog and the experience can become even more powerful.
Taking a ‘lead’ in developing this specific male-friendly program is a 38-year-old man from Bristol in the UK, who found his way out of a slump by going on walks with this Hungarian Vizla, Mali.
Rob Osman’s anxiety and depression was on the rise in 2019 when he gave up his job in the corporate world in favour of being at home with his young family and attending university to study psychology.
"I’ve had demons throughout my life," he said. "I still had suffered with depression since I lost my dad,” he told Today
However, he did notice that whenever he went for a walk with Mali, he felt noticeably better.
So he invited his friends along and the pack also benefited from getting out with their dogs.
It’s not so surprising. Research has shown that owning a pet improves lives both mentally and physically.
“Dogs especially help us get out and enjoy the outdoors while getting some regular exercise. They are great motivators and personal trainers, never wanting to miss a training session no matter the weather,” says the RSPCA.
“Pet owners report less depression and appear to cope with grief, stress and loss better than non-pet owners.”
In May 2013, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a scientific statement associating pet ownership with reduced heart disease risk factors and greater longevity.
Rob Osman decided to formalise his walks into ‘Dude and Dogs Walk and Talk’ – where men are paired with a trained volunteer and a dog – if they don’t have one of their own.
The leader of the walks - the ‘Dog Dude’ - facilitates the session.
"Everyone knows fresh air is good for you, everyone knows animals can be good for you, and everyone knows that talking is good for you. It’s just sort of changed the dynamic," says Rob.
“As blokes we’re not very good in that traditional set up of face to face, looking someone in the eye and having that conversation so it’s just giving them that space where, they’re out doors, they don’t have to look me in the eye … but it gives them the opportunity to change the way it’s done."
Rob is trying to secure funding to expand the program across the UK.
Take action for men’s health