“Creative muse” might not be your pet’s typical role, but research, as well as artists’ and creators’ lived experiences, reveal that this is just one benefit of having a dog.
Dog Walks Boost Creative Thinking
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,” said philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—but don’t just take his word for it. Research has proven that taking a walk is one of the best ways to get the creative juices flowing, boosting inspiration by stimulating the senses with new environments, particularly natural ones, and via simple physical activity.
For advertising creative director Mark Edwards, this effect is so notable that it’s become a core part of his work day. “The worst thing you can do is stare at your Word document and try to think about how to make things better,” he says. “It just won’t happen.”
Instead, when Edwards hits a roadblock, he accesses the creatively fertile realm of the subconscious by walking his dog, Cocker Spaniel Tzina. “The simple act of getting away from all the devices and going to the park, being in nature, and connecting with other people is a good way to switch off your brain and let your subconscious do its thing.”
The Perks of an Open Heart and Mind
But ideas don’t just start in the head. “Creativity is based on having a connection with your heart, with your soul,” says Raghubir Kintisch, an artist, art and yoga educator, and author of The Eleven Yogic Arts of Creative Living. And keeping that connection open can be much easier if you’re sharing your life with a pup. “If you and your dog are doing it right, then you’ll always have an open heart, so getting into your creativity is a lot easier,” Kintisch adds.
Such loving feelings also make people happier—which has its own creative benefits. “Having a dog has reprogrammed my brain to be happy continually, and I think that’s really useful for creativity,” Edwards notes. Studies also show that being happy can increase creative-thinking abilities by allowing for a broader and more connective mode of thought.
For writer Nicole Spector, the love and mutual care that come with dog ownership also help with day-to-day mood management and self-care. “When I work, especially in this creative zone, I get very anxious. I tend to shut down a little bit. I get moody. I might snap at my husband,” she says. Since fear and anxiety activate the amygdala, which in turn shuts down the brain’s creative-thinking patterns, this all-too-familiar response to creative work can become a serious impediment.
For Spector, dogs are a perfect remedy. One of her three pups will often approach her while she’s working to give her “nudges of love,” which calm and comfort her. “There’s a therapeutic aspect,” she says, “in that I can always just reach out and hug my dogs.”
And the nurturing goes both ways. Caring for her 13-year-old Chihuahua mix, Spector says, activates a maternal mindset that spills over into better caring for herself. “When I check on her,” she says, “I also grab a snack or get water, and do things that might not come to mind naturally for me.” With a happy body and heart, it’s much easier to enter into creative work.
Discipline of Dog Ownership
But creative people spend all day lounging around in billowing shirts, reading poetry, and drinking red wine, right? Wrong. Kintisch stresses that discipline is key to creativity, which after all is often self-motivated. This, in turn, makes Kintisch’s 9-year-old mixed-breed dog Mitzie an indispensable part of her life. “Having a dog sets the tone for the way you handle your time,” she says. The need to schedule in time to walk, feed, and care for the dog “instills a certain level of discipline that I might not have had for myself,” she adds, “but I have it for the dog. It takes care of that baseline discipline.” The need to show up for your pup every day makes it easier to show up at your laptop or easel, too.
For Spector, the discipline of dog ownership is also creatively motivating in another way. “It keeps me motivated to earn money, which is inherently tied into my creative process,” she says. With three dogs to care for, each of them on food for a different dietary sensitivity, Spector can’t afford to fall into a creative slump. “I also want to keep my life as a creative person,” she adds, “so I can be home and be flexible with them.”
So brush off your paintbrushes and get to work on that novel. There’s a pup in your home who’s just waiting to help you hone your creative genius.