12 Benefits of Having a Dog (Science-Backed)

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Dogs are so much part of our lives that we can’t begin understanding how families without dogs or other pets manage. Have you ever considered why your canine companion is an unmissable family member? You might be surprised to learn that there are several science-backed benefits of having a dog in your life.

Dogs are the perfect examples of unconditional love. Whether you’ve inadvertently locked your precious pooch in the garage, left it alone at home when you ran some errands, or forgot to fill its water bowl, there will be nothing but devotion for you in your furry friend’s eyes. The same devotion will be there after a tongue-lashing when you came home to find your house decorated with toilet paper.

Dog ownership is common worldwide. For example, over 50% of households in the United States and 39% in Australia have dogs. It has been suggested that dog ownership can improve human mental well-being through various possible pathways.

Let’s look at how canine companionship enhances different aspects of our lives and well-being. Research shows dog ownership positively affects our physical and emotional health. It benefits the immune system, and pain management and helps avoid cholesterol problems.

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1. Dogs Reduce Loneliness

When you feel all alone and socially isolated, your dog will be there, ready to provide wordless emotional support and an endless supply of cuddles and wet kisses. A small Australian study discovered that dog ownership reduces loneliness. Another survey by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute indicated that 85% of respondents believe that interaction with pets reduces loneliness. Most agree that human-pet interactions can achieve the following:

  • Dogs may provide their owners with social support and companionship
  • Canine companions can act as catalysts for increased human social interactions
  • Acute human-dog interactions have been shown to restrict concentrations of the stress biomarker cortisol.
  • Instead, human-animal interactions boost concentrations of oxytocin—a hormone that has positive hormonal effects.

Scientific research further continues to support pet ownership and human-animal interaction (HAI) for improving social connections, providing social support, decreasing loneliness and depression, and other benefits

More than one-third of Americans older than 65, and half of those over 85, live alone.

Of the pet-owning respondents:

  • 80% of pet owners say their pet makes them feel less lonely
  • 54% say their pet helps them connect with other people

2. Dogs Improve their Owners’ Cardiovascular Health

Dog ownership has been associated with benefits like decreased cardiovascular risk. A series of studies suggested associations of dog ownership with lower blood pressure levels, improved lipid profiles, and diminished sympathetic responses to stress. Studies also suggested dogs may positively impact our cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

What does this mean?

Owning a dog can help you live longer. A comprehensive review of studies published between 1950 and 2019 found that dog owners had a lower risk of heart disease-related death. Furthermore, studies suggest that dog owners have lower blood pressure levels and improved responses to stress.

Even just living with a dog makes a difference. The studies showed people who had experienced previous coronary events like cardio had an even higher level of risk reduction for death. Research has concluded that the bond between humans and dogs reduces stress, which is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, and heart attack.

3. Dogs Reduce Stress levels

Your canine companion can offer comfort and ease your worries and lower stress levels. Multiple studies indicate that personally owned dogs and therapy dogs help alleviate anxiety and stress. Even just petting a familiar dog lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It slows breathing, and relaxes muscle tension.

Scientists at Washington State University discovered that a mere 10 minutes of petting a dog can have significant stress-related benefits. Study participants had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.

One demonstration involved stressed college students and shelter dogs and cats. Divided into two groups, some students petted animals for ten minutes, while the second group merely observed images of the same animals.

The salivary cortisol levels measurements of the two groups of students indicated significantly lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in one group. The action of petting the live animals proved to provide a lot more stress relief than the students without external stimuli.

4. Dogs Help with Crisis Recovery

Dogs help us recover psychologically from a crisis. The College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University studied the effects of service canine companionship on military veterans. Analysis of the study results showed that military veterans with PTSD cope better both physiologically and psychologically when they have a service dog. Veterans with service dogs had significantly fewer symptoms of PTSD and their coping skills improved.

Furthermore, participants living with a service dog also exhibited significantly less PTSD severity as well as less anxiety, anger, alcohol abuse, and sleep disturbance symptoms than those on the waitlist to get the benefits of having canine companions.

5. Dogs Get Bums Off Couches

A 2019 British study revealed that dog owners spend almost 300 minutes walking their dogs each day. In contrast, those without dogs spend only about 200 minutes on daily walks. Dog owners are four times more likely to meet physical activity guidelines.

In conclusion, this study provides new evidence that UK dog owners are considerably more active than people without a dog, ideal for weight loss. Moreover, dog walking is undertaken in addition to, and not instead of, other physical activities. Other benefits of the extra physical activities include helping dog owners lose weight.

6. Dogs can Help You Meet Your Soulmate

If you’re looking for a date, it might be time to get a dog. A dog’s presence may make people appear more likable and attractive.

Previous studies have suggested that dogs facilitate social interaction between humans. Furthermore, the nature of social interaction is limited to nonverbal behavior such as smiling or gazing, or commonplace conversations.

Four studies were carried out in field settings to explore if dogs can facilitate closer relationships:

  • In the first experiment, a male participant (accompanied or not by a dog) solicited people for money in the street.
  • The second experiment was the same except that a female participant did the begging.
  • In a third experiment, a male participant (with or without a dog) accidentally dropped some coins on the ground, to see if people would help him pick them up.
  • In the fourth experiment, a male confederate (with or without a dog) solicited young women in the street for their phone numbers.

Results show that the presence of the dog was associated with a higher rate of helping behavior in the first 3 experiments. Likewise with the telephone number request of the participant in experiment 4. The influence of a domestic dog as a facilitator to create affiliation and relations in social interaction was clear.

In separate studies

  • Researchers asked individuals to rate people in photographs, and found that people looked happier and more relaxed when they appeared with a dog.
  • A study by a dog food site found that men and women benefit when they include a profile photo of their pup. Women benefited more than men with dogs in their profiles.
  • Another study found that 65 percent of dog owners admit to taking more photos of their dog than their significant other.

7. Dogs Help Us Make Friends Easier

Walking your dog can make you more approachable and give people a conversation starter. Think about how many times you’ve interacted with others at the dog park. Moreover, how many of those interactions led to subsequent conversations, or even new friendships?

Researchers report that about 40% of dog owners found it easier to make friends when they have their doggy wingman with them. Dogs are the perfect way to get to know strangers and form new friendships.

The private research Tufts University in Massachusetts report that a study at its Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine concluded that people who have a strong attachment to a pet feel more connected in their communities and their human relationships.

8. Dogs Trigger Our Care-Taking Behavior

Do you know what Kindchenschema is?

Ethologist Konrad Lorenz proposed that baby schema (‘Kindchenschema’) is as follows. It is a set of infantile physical features such as a large head, round face, and big eyes that are perceived as cute. It motivates care-taking behavior in other individuals, with the evolutionary function of enhancing offspring survival.

Studies have found that puppy faces have the same effect. The reason puppies are so irresistible is that a dog’s facial features possess an “infant schema” with “social releasers” that trigger an innate caregiver response in humans. One look into those puppy eyes, and we’re in love.

9. Dogs lift our spirits

Just looking at a dog can make you happier: a 2009 Japanese study found that staring into your dog’s eyes raises your “love hormone” level—oxytocin. Besides the many health benefits of having a dog as a best friend, they are natural mood boosters. A 2017 study determined that dogs can even lift the spirits of victims of life-threatening diseases like AIDS.

10. Dogs Help Seniors With Compromised Cognitive Functions

Studies exploring the benefits and effects of dogs on seniors found several positive results.

Mental Health: One study found that pet therapy improves the cognitive functions of mentally ill residents of long-term care facilities.

Dementia: A separate study of seniors with dementia demonstrated that interaction with dogs significantly improved social interaction, and decreases agitation, which is common in seniors with dementia.

11. Dogs can Benefit Children with Autism

Studies have shown that just being a part of an autistic child’s family life can help the child with developing sharing, comfort offering, and other social skills.

12. The Benefits of Human-dog Interactions for Learning

The use of Animal Assisted Interventions with children with developmental disabilities has promising results. Allowing human-dog interactions appears to help in the learning environment of these children, It helps with concentration, attention, motivation, and relaxation. Regular play breaks with Furry Fido can boost alertness throughout the day.

Man’s Best Friend

A one-year study of 938 medicare members pointed out that older adults with canine companions needed fewer doctor visits. It suggested that senior dog owners spend less time fretting over their health and more time taking care of their pets. In turn, their dogs provide the comfort that non-pet owners seek and receive from their physicians.

Non-dog owners will likely not understand the benefits of having a dog.  Whether you have a toy-size Shih Tzu or a massive Cane Corso, the love between dog owners and their pooches is reciprocal. We shower our canine companions with love and care. In turn, they love their owners unconditionally, and their loyalty has no bounds.

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Mari Serfontein