Ahh man’s (and woman’s) best friend: A dog. There is no creature on earth that will love you more than he or she loves themselves. Through good times and bad, our dogs are always there for us, without fail.
We are going through some pretty tough times. The main thing that has gotten me through this whole mess is my dogs. They’ve definitely kept me busy, but more over: They — and all of the animals we’ve rescued - continued to give me a sense of purpose. I mean, how can you feel sad and alone when you have those unconditional loving, puppy dog eyes staring at you like you’re the best thing since sliced bread on a daily basis?
I’ve always known that the sheer presence of a dog can immediately improve your mood, and now science has proven it.
Since the pandemic began, we have seen a dramatic increase in pet foster and adoption applications. In addition to being home more often, many are relying on the comfort of their pets to help get them through quarantine, the constant barrage of bad news, and the fear and uncertainty about our future.
But, what is it about dogs that makes them so special? Research suggests that there’s something about our dogs, which makes us feel less lonely, depressed, and anxious, and can improve our overall health.
The secret lies in our hormones. Petting a dog has been shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone). Caring for a dog releases oxytocin (also known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially). Dogs also release oxytocin, which means they return that affection.
There’s no doubt dogs make our lives better. They make us happier. They make us get out and move. They encourage us to be more mindful and present. They help keep us on a schedule. They make us feel loved. It’s no wonder science proves the mental, emotional and physical benefits of having a dog. Here are a few more:
- Dogs increase positive social interactions. Dogs not only provide their owners with companionship; they can also help create human-to-human friendships and social support. I lived in my house for 3 years before I adopted my first dog Stella. I didn’t really know any of my neighbors before then, but Stella changed all that. Being a pug puppy, she was a show-stopper (still is). Everyone in the neighborhood both two-legged and four wanted to meet Stella, and Stella wanted to meet them.
“Pet ownership appears to be a significant factor for facilitating social interaction and friendship formation within neighborhoods,” write Dr. Lisa Wood, associate professor at the University of Western Australia. “For pet owners, this also translates into new sources of social support, both of a practical and emotionally supportive nature.”
2. Dogs reduce stress. Many of us have been stressed or anxious due to the pandemic, job and financial concerns, children home-schooling, racial tensions, the political climate, etc. Our world has been turned upside down. Luckily, there are dogs for this. Studies at the University of New York found that people experienced lower levels of stress when conducting a stressful assignment when they had a pet with them. Studies in workplaces have also shown that taking dogs to work lowers your stress and improves your recovery after challenges.
3. Dogs ward-off loneliness. With all of the social distancing and lock-downs, many of us are feeling isolated and lonely. Being without human touch or interaction can be incredibly difficult, even for introverts. A recent study revealed new dog owners felt less lonely after they got a dog compared to those who didn’t have a dog. Research also shows that owning a pet improves a senior citizen’s overall quality of life by providing physical, emotional and social benefits. Because our dogs reciprocate feelings of love and affection, we are bound to feel less isolated and lonely with a loving, understanding furry, four-legged companion around.
4. Dogs improve our physical well-being. I never exercised more than I did when I stared adopting dogs. I now have 5. Aside from Stella, the rest are over 75lbs and need to be walked separately. That’s a lot of walking. Throw a behavior needs foster in the mix, and I’m getting in all of my steps by 10am!
Other than physical exercise, there is a variety of health benefits to owning a dog. One study found that dog people reported fewer minor health problems and considered themselved healthier than non-pet owners. Another study found that dog owners live longer and make fewer annual doctor visits than non-owners.
A review of multiple research studies found that dog ownership has been associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and showed significantly lower heart rates, systolic blood pressure, and arterial pressure. Recent reports have also suggested an association of dog companionship with lower blood pressure levels, improved lipid profile, and diminished sympathetic responses to stress.
Overall, having a dog makes us happier and healthier, especially if you foster or adopt a rescue dog. Saving an animal in need comes with its own emotional benefits of having a sense of purpose and doing a good deed.
Just remember, a pet is a life-time commitment, and not just during COVID. We will go back to work. Children will go back to school. In addition to being a responsible pet owner, these are just a few good reasons to remain as committed to your dog as she or he would be hopelessly and unconditionally committed to you.