How Dogs are Good for our Health
Updated: May 24
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So, here’s the deal. You decide to add a dog to your family, and although you’ve researched like mad, you're three weeks in and you realise it’s more than a significant amount of work. Especially when they’re a little puppy and you’re toilet training whilst wrestling with yet another slipper that’s already chewed, it can be particularly overwhelming.
Even when they grow up, there’s still the obligatory walks in the rain through the winter months when you’d rather be curled up by the fire with a good book. Muddy paw prints decorating your new outfit. A car boot that’s perpetually filthy and cleaning it is like painting the Forth Bridge. You invest so much time into dog training that you actually stopped yourself asking your children to 'sit and stay' last week. You start to resemble a walking/talking Google map of dog poo litter bins. It’s fair to say we do a lot for our dogs.
But what do we get out of this deal? In true Monty Python style - What have dogs ever done for us? Trust me, when I say we do extremely well out of the arrangement.
Reduce Stress and Stave off Depression
Dogs offer a natural way of achieving everyday wellbeing and relief from stress. Even spending a few minutes petting your dog can lower anxiety and blood pressure.
Scientific studies have shown that even these small interactions with your dog causes our brain to produce oxytocin, a hormone referred to as the “cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin increases feelings of relaxation, trust, and empathy while reducing stress and anxiety.
"There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face." — Bernard Williams - Philosopher (1929-2003)
One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfil the basic human need for touching, stroking & hugging. That’s the reason that therapy dogs are so effective. Oxytocin is one of the best, most powerful, wonderful, healthy social hormones we have and it’s the one that’s the most affected in a positive way through human-animal interaction.
Dogs seem attuned to the emotional state of their owners. Whilst they are able to understand some words we use, they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.
“A best friend is someone who loves you when you forget to love yourself.”
Additionally, the companionship of a dog can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.
Help Making Friends
It has been proven that dog ownership has a positive effect on our psychological well-being. But the idea that dogs can also serve as a means of developing friends and social contacts is only now receiving some direct experimental research.
Dogs’ friendly and sociable personalities enable them to expose us to other individuals, potentially helping to start new friendships. I’ve definitely experienced this and find that people are more likely to initiate conversations with complete strangers when they’re accompanied by a dog. I’ve met so many new people whilst out walking Freddie.
Many friendships begin because of encounters that happen while people are walking their dog. These friendly associations can become quite strong and provide a lot of social support.
“It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” – John Grogan (Author, Marley & Me)
This is especially important as we age, as it can become more difficult to get out and meet people. Not so for dog owners. Researchers have found that about 40 percent of dog walkers make friends more easily, possibly because the vast majority—4 in 5, according to one British study—speak with other dog owners during walks. Psychology Today.com
“You can usually tell that a man is good if he has a dog who loves him.” ― W. Bruce Cameron
Interestingly, women are even more likely to give a man her phone number if he’s with a dog.
In a recent experiment, a man asked 240 women for their phone number— 120 times while accompanied by a dog and 120 times without one. He followed the exact same script whether the dog was with him or not.
The difference the dog made in his success rate was astounding. When he gave his pitch without a dog, 11 out of 120 women were sufficiently charmed to give him their number. When he was with a dog, 34 out of 120 complied with his request. With a dog, his success rate was three times as high.
Never mind a wingman— if you want to meet someone, you need a wing-dog!
Keep Fit & Active
There are numerous studies showing that dog owners get more physical activity, which could help to prolong a healthy life. Since having Freddie, I have certainly walked more on a daily basis especially when the weather is bitter or it’s pouring down, there’s no way I would go for a walk if it wasn’t for Freddie’s needs.
Health experts recommend that adults get about 2 ½ hours worth of moderate exercise per week, which equates to only 30 minutes/ 5 days a week. Dog owners are way more likely to hit that goal. Apparently, not only are dog walkers getting more exercise, they're getting better quality exercise (walking faster and possibly covering more mileage), than people who simply walk or run on their own. Dog walkers are also more likely to stick to their fitness plans than those who walk with other humans or alone. Active.com
Sometimes you just need to run with your best friend
It’s not just exercises where there is evidence that our dogs can transform our lives.
According to a Swedish study canine ownership could reduce heart disease. A study of 3.4 million people between the ages of 40 and 80 found that having a dog was associated with a 23% reduction in death from heart disease and a 20% lower risk of dying from any cause over the 12 years of the study.
In turn, that activity helps us remain mobile into our 70s and 80s. Earlier this year, a study in the journal Gerontologist found that older adults who walked dogs experienced “lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.”
Learn some Life Lessons - Be More Dog
Dogs don't really care where they're going, they simply enjoy the journey. Although it's great to set goals, we often forget that it's the journey that matters most. When we get too attached to the outcome, we set ourselves up for frustration, depression or even anger if our exact expectations are not met. Next time you set a goal, be open to other possibilities and enjoy every moment of excitement, creativity, fun and lessons in the journey just like your dog.
"The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment."- Robert Falcon Scott
Dogs have a way of reminding us to live in the moment. The past is gone; you can't do anything about it. The future is unknown. The only thing you can really enjoy and affect is the present.
Humans are probably the only species that holds a grudge. A dog will never be angry with you because you didn't give him a treat after dinner last night. Holding a grudge weighs you down emotionally and keeps you from moving forward in life. Let grudges go and you will create your own personal freedom.
Freddie gets so excited if I get his lead or grab a ball. He circles round, jumping for joy. We live life so fast that we often forget to get excited and celebrate the good times because we're already on to the next thing. Wouldn't it be fun if we could all jump around when we're excited about something? We live in a miraculous world and there is much to jump for joy about.
No matter what, dogs love you unconditionally. They wag their tails when they see you, no matter what mood you're in. They still want to give you big wet kisses, even if you've just yelled at them. And they instantly forgive you no matter how you behave. Loving others unconditionally is a difficult task, but it's the one that would surely make the world a better place if we all just tried.
The capacity to express affection, unconditionally, makes the dog a valued "family member."
So next time you look out the window and it's pouring down, grab those wellies because your dog definitely deserves that walk.