By Dr. Becker
Most people can tell you what made them get a dog. Perhaps the family made a conscious decision to adopt a shelter pet… or the youngest in the family had grown responsible enough to take proper care of a dog… or they were finally ready, after the death of a much-loved former pet, to open their hearts to a new one. These are all wonderful reasons to get a dog. But what is it that really bonds people so closely to the canine companions they choose to bring into their homes? Can a dog actually improve your life? Let me count the ways…
The caring, affectionate qualities a sweet dog conveys can be worth its weight in gold. The presence of a four-legged friend can also bring a sense of calm in tense situations. Hospitals, schools, and nursing homes often take advantage of these attributes in dogs for patient therapy. Another example is when support staff at Winnipeg’s Red River College brought in half a dozen dogs to help relieve student stress during exam time,1 knowing that having a pup by your side, even for a little while, makes everything seem right with the world.
Most people would agree exercise is a good thing, even if they don’t do it regularly. But conscientious dog owners know their four-legged friend needs lots of physical activity, so whenever they take Fido out for a walk, the benefits are doubled. In fact, one study showed people who have a pup that needs walking get twice the exercise compared to those who don’t have a dog.2 It’s important to know exercise helps you both physically, but the activity done together is another added bonus.
They Make You Happy… And You Know It
It’s clinically proven: just one look in your beloved dog’s eyes is enough to boost your oxytocin, described by Psychology Today as a powerful hormone linked with the bonding that takes place between parents and children, and even couples when they hug or kiss. One study3 determined that the longer a dog was allowed to gaze lovingly in his owner’s eyes, the higher the level of oxytocin the owner produced, measured by researchers before and after the interaction. Most dog owners will tell you, even without the studies, that their dog makes them smile.
Mental, Emotional, and Physical Healers
Dogs don’t judge, they don’t find fault, and interestingly, people can bond instantaneously with a canine companion in ways they can’t with humans, whether they’re strangers or friends. A dog’s ability to break through emotional barriers has gone a long way toward helping children with autism, and easing the pain of people suffering from PTSD, depression, or disabilities.4 Therapy dogs representing numerous groups and organizations, can even merit certifications in related areas of assistance.
Social Ice Breakers
Taking a spin in the park with our best buddy on a leash is a great way to get acquainted with new people and encourage conversation, even if it’s just for networking purposes. Ironically, dog ownership has a way of helping others see you in a more human light. It shows you have an open heart, at least for dogs, and presents new avenues for socialization… for both you and your pup.
Keeping It Simple
One of the most compelling aspects about dog ownership is that your relationship with her is pure and simple. In return, her love for her chosen human is uncomplicated, unaffected, and real. When it comes to communicating with your best girl Sadie, tweets, texts, and social media will never do; it’s got to be one-on-one or nothing. It’s a unique bond. Just be sure your connection to Sadie doesn’t supersede human friendships.
Hitting the street in the company of a pooch instantly ups your own appeal,5 according to a study conducted by Dogs Trust, Britain’s largest dog welfare charity. The CEO of that organization actually believes dogs could be considered a “21st century cupid.” One reason is because dog owners are perceived as easier to talk to. A whopping 95 percent of study participants said they feel more comfortable approaching someone of the opposite sex if they know they owned a dog.
With dog ownership, it’s not just about what your pet can do for you. Even if he’s not human, the bond is mutual. His loyalty, love, companionship, and lifelong support becomes one of your greatest joys, making your world a better place to be.