For those who know me, most would say it is an understatement to say that I love dogs. I have had dogs in my life since I was 9 years old. Now, without sharing my age and making myself feel old, let’s just say, that was quite some time ago! I have been lucky enough to experience first hand the benefits of having dogs. These benefits… did you know that there is actual scientific-based evidence to show that dogs are good for us? Maybe we should be calling dogs ‘friends with benefits’!
I have shared my life with a number of dogs through the years. Each one, like people, had their own unique personality. Most recently we were blessed to have the most amazing service dog that we sadly lost in March of 2021. The bond can be incredible between a person and their dog, but what was shared with Ollie, was on a level that I had never experienced before.
Dogs definitely have a special place in my heart, but I have shared my life with other animals as well. If I didn’t have a dog, I’ve had a cat (or three), a gerbil, a hamster, guinea pigs, fish, and even a bearded dragon! I welcome just about any kind of animal in our home. Quite recently, I even considered a goat (yes, I am serious, but am laughing to myself right now)! Of all the different species I have shared my life with… none have felt the same as having a dog.
The truth is, a dog can positively influence all aspects of our lives… physically, emotionally and socially.
Did you know that having a dog is good for your heart? Those that share their lives with a dog is at a 31% lower risk of death due to heart attack or stroke then those that do not live with dogs. It could be that those that live with dogs are also more likely to be physically active and experience less day to day stress. Both of those factors play a major role in leading a healthy lifestyle. We all know the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle… one of those a decrease in cardiovascular mortality.
Dogs do reduce our stress and anxiety levels simply by allowing us to pet them. And, they benefit from that transaction too! Petting a dog has actually been shown to lower our blood pressure, heart rate, slow our breathing and relax us. A study by scientists at Washington State University showed that with just 10 minutes of petting a dog, study participants experienced a significant reduction in cortisol levels… which is known as the stress hormone. The study participants were university students – and if I remember my university days, university students are under a great deal of daily stress!
Another physical benefit relates to kids and babies – growing up with dogs can actually help prevent colds and ear infections in babies during their first year, and as well, help to lower the risk of early development of pet allergies and asthma in children.
SOCIAL & EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
As so many have discovered during the pandemic, dogs provide us with companionship and make us feel less alone. Dogs are there for us no matter what! They provide us with unconditional love and emotional support… sometimes better than people. Need a mood booster? Simply interacting with dogs increases our oxytocin, seratonin and dopamine, which are all tied to a feel good mood.
Research has also shown that around 40% of dog owners had an easier time making friends. If you happen to be looking for that special person using dating apps, you might find these next statistics interesting. In a survey of single people in the US, 63% were more likely to swipe right (or match) on someone who had a dog in their dating app profile. The same survey had 47% admit that they were more attracted to dog owners vs. non-dog owners on dating apps. So yes, a dog can make you more attractive… at least virtually!
I’ve personally experienced this – dogs can be an incredible help with social interactions for children with autism or other developmental conditions. The list of benefits connect with animal assisted interventions (AAI) and animal assisted therapy (AAT) is quite lengthy. For children that experience social challenges, a dog can increase the likelihood of positive social interactions. My son, after having his service dog at school with him, became known, and greeted peers of all ages. For a child that struggles socially the positive impact was incredible! In an animal assisted intervention approach, dogs can help children with speech development, reading, self esteem and self confidence… and the list can go on!
Children that grow up around dogs can have increased empathy levels as opposed to those children that didn’t grow up with a dog. A dog can also teach children about responsibility, unconditional love and you know what… dogs listen and they don’t judge!
For seniors, a dog can also provide many positive benefits. Much like children with autism or other developmental diagnoses, seniors can benefit immensely from animal assisted interventions or therapies. Specifically, cognitive function was seen to improve in residents of long-term care facilities that were involved in pet therapy programs. Another study of seniors in nursing homes living with dementia showed a significant decrease in agitation-type behaviors and an improvement in social interactions with the use of animal assisted therapy. Seniors can also benefit from a boost in vitality that a dog can provide. A dog can improve senior’s enjoyment of life. With the increased social benefits of having a dog, they can help keep seniors stay connected and active within their community and potentially build new friendships.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
With what dogs do for us we need to ensure that we are able to provide them what they need. During the pandemic, demand for dogs has skyrocketed! Many individuals and families that previously may not have thought of getting a dog… got a dog! This is great in many aspects, but there are also a lot of dogs that are experiencing behavior challenges as people are returning back to work as life is resembling some form of what it was before COVID. Separation anxiety, which was a problem pre-COVID, is now even more common. Unfortunately, people are relinquishing and rehoming dogs now that they no longer have time for them.
Dogs are, in my opinion, one of the best things in life. If you are looking for a dog, be sure to do your research to find out what breed might be best you. Be aware of the costs and time commitment that go along with having a dog. Expect that you will have to pay for a dog trainer to help with behaviors and training plans. If you work full-time out of the house you may need to hire a dog walker. You may want to consider pet insurance as those unexpected vet bills can add up!
If you do decide to get a dog, practice patience, and above all else, love him or her every day you have them. Their lives are too short and the stronger the bond you have the more benefits you (and they) will experience.