There are some things that you just know as a dog-owner. One of those things is that your dog makes your life better in more ways than you can count. It's true--and we have the experiences to back it up!
But what exactly makes them so beneficial? What good are dogs, anyway?
There have been studies that cover this very topic, exploring the plentiful mental, social, and physical benefits that owning a dog (or cat) can have on us humans. If you ask all of us from BaxterBoo, we'll be the first to tell you: having a dog around really makes life more enjoyable--and more healthy. Here are a few reasons why.
Have you ever noticed how balanced a dog's life is? They stop and quite literally smell the flowers while you're walking. They run around and play, enjoying toys and romping and rolling in dirt. But they rest, too: they take long, good naps when they are tired. They cuddle. They stretch. They drink water. They eat when they're hungry. In short, they follow their instincts and listen to what their bodies need. We humans could take a lesson from that! When we've been working for a while at our desk at work, maybe we should take a breather and stretch a bit. Tired? How about a power nap? Bored or stressed? How about some play time? Maybe stopping to smell the flowers? Following our dog's lead could lead us down trails we never would have come upon otherwise--like taking better care of ourselves and listening to our bodies!
Dogs have been proven to help sufferers of disorders like ADHD, depression, anxiety, and autism find relief. Not only does taking care of a pet, for example, help a young child with ADHD find balance and routine in his/her life, but a pet also offers a constant companion that accepts them as they are no matter what. What could be better for a child's development and self-esteem? Moreover, in children or adults with autism, dogs can help with sensory issues because of the sensory integration activities that come alongside owning a pet.
For patients suffering from depression or anxiety disorders see improvements in their day-to-day ability to cope. Depression can be an exhausting, debilitating disease that can negatively affect every aspect of a person's life. It's a daily battle. And what makes a battle easier? Someone to fight with you. Dogs offer listening ears, cuddling sessions, ridiculous antics and fun playtime, laughter, comfort, and so much more. Caring for another living thing as well pulls sufferers up out the pit and give them something else to focus on, which can be therapeutic.
Calling all introverts! Having a dog can help encourage a healthy social life for those of us who may have a harder time initiating conversations or making friends--or for those of us whose job or busy lifestyle doesn't lend much time for a healthy social life. When a dog is on a walk, he/she will probably wag their tail, acknowledge, and pay close attention to other people and dogs they come across. Every dog-owner knows that a good way to initiate an easy conversation with others is to bring your dog to a park or on errands with you. For an introvert (like yours truly), that's not always a plus to owning a pet, but it can pull us out of isolation and introversion and offer easy, low-pressure conversation topics. Like a cute, playful dog.
And we all know a cute dog is not a bad way to break the ice and get a date.
While having a pet isn't a cure for health issues, it can help prevent and alleviate some of them. In one study of 240 married couples, for example, it was discovered that pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower resting heart rates than non pet-owners. In another study, it was shown that children suffering from hypertension had lower blood pressure while petting their dogs.
In one study, it was shown that dog owners had a better survival rate after heart attack, and overall, pet owners have a lower risk of dying from a cardiac disease. Perhaps it's all the exercise our heart gets from loving our dogs? (This also could be attributed to the often more active lifestyle that dog-owners partake in.) (See this article for more information regarding these studies.)
Speaking of a dog-owner's lifestyle, owning a dog encourages an otherwise rather sedentary person to get up and move more often. Because dogs need physical exercise and activity to remain healthy, dog-owners by extension end up becoming more active as they take their dogs for walks, out to parks, hiking, or even getting up and down to let your dog outside.
It's pretty hard to look at a puppy and be upset, at least for me. I know that when I've had a rough day at work, or I heard bad news from a friend, coming home to a smiling, tail-wagging, excited puppy is probably the best mood boost I could ever have (although chocolate and coffee are also in the top 3, too). It's not just a placebo effect, either. Your body goes through real, physical changes that make a difference. Cortisol levels lower as you pet and observe a pet, and serotonin levels increase. (This is also a major reason why owning a pet helps with anxiety and depression, as those two disorders are associated with chemical imbalances in the brain.)
If your child grows up in a home with animals, researchers have discovered that said child will grow up with fewer allergies and stronger immunity because they will be introduced to allergens early and their body will develop ways to fight them off.
If you suffer from chronic pain from disorders like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), fibromyalgia, or osteoarthritis, the movements that are required of a pet owner can be helpful. Walking, throwing, and petting can be helpful, therapeutic movements from those suffering from widespread chronic pain. But the relief goes even deeper. Even with limited mobility, a pet-owner experiences unconditional love, support, and companionship from a dog, as well as unadulterated compassion and sympathy.
In college, my roommate and I owned a dog named Sadie that we would take home with us on summer and winter breaks. My father, who suffers from a rather progressive case of RA, fell one day and was in serious pain. He remained on the floor for a while until the pain subsided. He could hardly move! My mom rushed to his side--but so did Sadie, and she would not leave him. She gently rested her head on his injured shoulder, watching him, licking his hands, and when he was finally able to stand up and walk to the couch, she walked beside him, ensuring he made it safely. That is the kind of care and concern a pet can offer, and even if the pain is still there, the comfort a pet can offer is priceless!
While dogs are not cures, they definitely encourage overall health and well-being in their human owners. From mood boosts to pain relief, dogs offer the best kind of relief: a smiling, tail-wagging, energetic, furry, cuddly ball of all good things that remind you that, hey, it's good to be alive!
What's the best thing about your dog? Have you experienced any of these healthy benefits from owning a dog? We'd love to hear your stories about how your dog has made your life better!