FROM the sight of your pet’s delighted wagging tail when you return home to their fluffy cuddles to cheer you up – dog owners definitely have it lucky.

In fact, studies have shown that dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression, and playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.

The Mental Health Foundation even recommends the benefits of having a pet for things like loneliness and depression.

But for people who cannot commit to looking after a dog full time, it could be said they’re missing out on the joys of being a pet owner.

One business is trying to put that right by offering volunteer dog hosting and cuddling on a part-time basis.

Barking Mad Newcastle and Tyne Valley, which is run by Carrie Jarvis, said caring for a waggy-tailed companion on a temporary basis and meeting other like-minded dog lovers could act as an antidote to the problem of loneliness in modern society.

Barking Mad offers the opportunity for volunteers to care for dogs in their own home, while their owners are away on holiday.

Prudhoe resident Joyce Walker has been reaping the benefits for 10 years.

She said: “Companionship is one of the the crucial things. We had two dogs and both died within two months of each other, then three months later my husband died.

“I was quite lonely and lived in the countryside, which is when I found Barking Mad.”

Joyce chooses to look after small dogs who walk on a lead, which suits her lifestyle, but hosts are paired up to the type of dog which suits them.

She spends about half of her time in the company of a canine friend, many of which are return visitors.

“I walk with the dogs and when you have a dog, a lot of people stop to talk, so it’s quite a social thing,” she explained.

“I was getting older and I like dogs so it was ideal thing to be able to take care of dogs on holidays.”

Carrie said that most host families were active retired people and those who either worked from home, or had extended periods away from work

“A lot of people say it’s about the companionship and getting regular exercise,” she explained. “Some people have said they have stopped walking since they were widowed, but that having a dog gives them a reason to get out.”

The benefits of socialising with dogs are becoming more widely recognised, with Hexham-based charity Wag & Company, which has been operating since 2016, making visits with dogs and their owners to care or medical establishments to visit the elderly for this very reason.

But research increasingly shows that it’s not just the elderly who are lonely. A study by BBC Radio 4’s All In The Mind showed that young people feel loneliness most intensely of any age group.

Carrie gave the example of a case of a Hexham resident who suffered with a medical problem with chronic fatigue and joint and muscle problems.

With a need to take more regular exercise, she joined Barking Mad as a host and initially provided home boarding for quiet, calm dogs with low exercise needs. But a year down the line she was pet-sitting much more bouncy dogs who needed long walks as her own energy and fitness increased.

Joyce added: “I have got the support of knowing if something happens I just need to ring Carrie. It means I don’t need to worry and it gives me the confidence to do it.”