More and more people are living alone for at least part of their adult life. If you’re on your own, a pooch can provide companionship and more. A 2017 study of lifestyle and health details for 34,202 people suggests that having a dog can help reduce the risk of heart disease and prolong life expectancy for individuals in single-person households.
A 2012 review article in Frontiers in Psychology examines the impact of the human-animal bond on different physiological variables. The summary explained that several studies demonstrated how interaction with a friendly animal such as a dog effectively reduced fear and anxiety.
Help Us Relax
You may not need anyone to tell you that a game of fetch or just running your fingers through Fido’s hair can help you relax. Here’s why: Studies show that these interactions cause increased levels of dopamine and serotonin in the blood. Both substances help us relax and stay calm.
Studies on how animals help reduce stress abound. One case showed that people found a difficult task less stressful when accompanied by their furbaby than when they were with a close friend or spouse. Another report demonstrated that heart attack patients in high-stress jobs were more likely to survive more than a year after the event if they had a pet.
Dogs Make Us Happy
A 2009 study in Japan revealed that looking into Fido’s eyes triggers a release of oxytocin, which is sometimes called the “cuddle” or “love hormone”. This substance enhances our sense of bonding and well-being. In another investigation involving seniors, people over 60 that live alone were 4 times less likely to become depressed if they had a pet than if they didn’t live with a furry friend.
They Make Us Laugh
Help With Weight Loss
Studies show that regular walks with your four-legged friend can help you lose weight. In one research project, public housing residents who walked loaner dogs for 20 minutes a day, five days a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds in a 50-week study period. In addition, the Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago conducted a year-long survey that showed pairing obese patients with overweight dogs for a walking program helped both parties drop pounds.
Reduce Trips to the Doctor
Particularly for seniors, owning a pet may help reduce the number of visits to the doctor. A one-year study of 938 medicare enrollees suggests that dog owners are less likely to see their physician after a stressful life event than individuals without a pet.
Motivate Us to Exercise More
Dogs need to walk, and that gets us moving. There are several studies showing that people with dogs tend to get more exercise than those without a canine companion. A Michigan State University investigation found that people who own a furbaby were 34% more likely to walk 150 minutes a week than non-dog owners. Other projects report that humans tend to walk faster and get better quality exercise when they go with a pup.
Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels
In addition to helping to relax us and lower our blood pressure, dogs may positively impact our cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One large study showed some correlation between dog ownership and lower levels of these blood lipids, but the findings weren’t conclusive.
A nationwide cohort study in Sweden revealed that dog owners, particularly if they live alone, were less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease or premature death than those without a furry friend.
Add Structure and Routine
Enhance Our Joy
Savings From Fewer Doctor Visits
Seniors living alone may make 30% fewer doctor visits if they own a pet. This can be a significant benefit for the wallet!
Improved Pain Management
A 2003 study found that human-dog interactions resulted in increased levels of beta-endorphin, oxytocin, and other substances that help with pain management. A 1996 report on the psychosocial and psychophysical effects of human-animal contact also showed that people receiving animal-based therapy used fewer pain relievers to manage their condition.
It may sound counterintuitive, but dogs help us stay healthy. They bring germs into the house that our bodies may not otherwise encounter, and that gets our immune system working. In 2012, scientists released a report on a cohort study conducted on 397 infants in Finland that suggests contacts with a dog in the first year of life may boost resistance to respiratory illnesses.
Improved Heart Health
A 2002 study of 240 married couples showed that individuals with pets had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates when compared to those without pets. There’s also good news for dog owners that have had a heart attack. Research shows that patients with a canine companion may outlive those that don’t have a furbaby.
Kristen Fuller, M.D. and clinical mental health writer says, “Dogs are one of people’s most popular companions.” They offer us unconditional love and a warm greeting when we come home. Caring for a pet helps us to feel needed and overcome our loneliness. What’s more, most people talk to their furry friends and may use them as sounding boards to work through problems.
They Fulfill Our Need for Touch
Psychologists understand the importance and value of physical touch. It can help to reduce stress and anxiety, decrease feelings of depression, relieve pain, and recover from health problems. Petting a dog can also lower our blood pressure and help us relax.
Surviving a Major Illness
We’ve seen how dogs can help heart attack patients live longer. This human-animal interaction also benefits people who have had a stroke or other circulatory illnesses. Single-person households with a canine companion demonstrated a reduced risk of death after a heart attack (33% less) or stroke (27% less).
They Boost the Immune System
Scientists have found that having a dog in the house can impact the types of bacteria found in the home. With this in mind, researchers at the University of Arizona proposed a study in 2015 to determine whether the microbes our pups share with us benefit our immune system. The results are not yet available.
Lower Blood Pressure
Numerous studies demonstrate that owning a pet can help lower blood pressure. In one investigation, people suffering from hypertension saw significant decreases in blood pressure within 5 months of bringing a shelter dog home with them.
Better Sleep and Coping With Insomnia
Sleeping with a service animal or pet dog may help people cope with various sleep disorders including nightmares, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.
Helps Reduce Fears and Phobia
Whether you’re responding to a potentially dangerous situation, or you’re suffering from a debilitating, intense fear of an imagined threat, dogs can help you cope. Many pups can sense when people feel stress, and when they do, they’ll do something to make you feel safe and calm.
Improved Mental Health
Evaluating 17 studies on the impact of the human-animal bond, a team of researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Southampton concluded that pets can have a positive effect on patients with mental health disorders. Pets help people manage their conditions, overcome loneliness, and find a sense of purpose, among other benefits.
Reduces Risk of Allergies
Two studies conducted in 2017 demonstrated that having a dog in the house before birth and while children are very young may help protect them from developing asthma and eczema symptoms.
Improves the Immune System
One study involving 397 children found that babies living in homes with dogs may be less likely to get respiratory tract infections like colds and ear infections than those in pet-free homes.
Eases Separation Anxiety
A family dog builds bonds with both children and adults. They can provide kids with a sense of security and help to ease separation anxiety when mom and dad enjoy a night out.
Helps Build a Positive Self-Image
Dogs provide unconditional love and companionship. They also depend on us and help us to feel like we’re needed. This kind of faithful friendship helps children build a positive self-image.
Help Children With ADHD
Playing with the family pet can relax and calm a child. This comes in handy with overly aggressive or hyperactive kids. It’s important in these situations to teach both Fido and your child how to behave with one another.
They Help Kids Learn Perseverance
When you get your kids involved in training the family pooch, they learn how to keep working at a challenging task. Teaching a dog how to perform special tricks takes perseverance.
They Help Kids Learn Responsibility
In a 2011-2012 survey of pet owners, the American Pet Product Association reported that 58% of respondents said pets helped teach their children to be more responsible. Animals need care and attention like feeding, walking, grooming, and affection, and these practices teach us responsibility for others.
Teach Kids About Loyalty
Dogs are our faithful companions. Their constant loyalty provides a model for children that shows them how we should treat one another.
Reduce the Risk of Asthma
Reduce the Risk of Eczema
Studies indicate that prenatal and infant exposure to dogs can reduce the likelihood that children will develop allergic reactions like eczema later in life.
Stimulate Curiosity and Imagination
Dogs and their children often become playmates. Learning about their furry friends can stimulate a youngster’s curiosity. Interacting with a pooch also sparks the imagination. My daughter loves to make up stories that include our pup.
Owning a pet like a dog can build several skills such as responsibility and respect for others. When your child contributes to caring for Fido, they build an internal motivation that can help them in other areas of life.
Dogs provide a positive tool for teaching children about respect. By training your kids how to be gentle and honor boundaries when Fido is resting or eating, you’ll be preparing them to treat people properly.
Service animals have helped PTSD patients suffering from nightmares, and they may help children as well. A dog can wake up and comfort the youngster when a bad dream begins. Kids can also learn to rehearse the nightmare and imagine their pup entering the dream and rescuing them.
Increases Learning in Children With Developmental Disabilities
The use of Animal Assisted Interventions with children with developmental disabilities has promising results. Allowing human-dog interactions in the learning environment appear to help with relaxation, motivation, concentration, and attention. Regular play breaks with a furbaby can also boost alertness during the day.
Dogs in the Classroom Improve Cognitive and Reading Skills
Bringing a therapy dog to the classroom or local library can be beneficial to a child’s education. A study from the National Institutes of Health reports, “The presence of a dog in an educational setting seems to support concentration, attention, motivation, and relaxation reflecting a reduction of high stress levels which inhibit effective learning and performance.”
A study published in 2017 looked at the impact of children’s attachment to their pets. The researchers found that kids that showed a strong bond with the family furbaby had greater compassion and empathy towards animals. The results were strongest among children aged 7-12 that had a dog at home.
Improved Social Skills
Growing up with a pet can bolster social skills in children according to a 2017 literature review. The report stated that “Studies on pet ownership and social development provided evidence for an association with increased social competence; social networks; social interaction and social play.”
Increased Verbal Skills
Provide Emotional Support
From calming our fears to offering unconditional love, dogs are a source of emotional support. Studies show that children who bond to a dog may find more emotional support from the family pet than from their human relationships.
They Make Children Happy
When kids interact with dogs and spend time playing with them, the levels of dopamine and serotonin increase in their blood. These neurotransmitters help produce a feeling of calm and contentment or happiness.
Reducing Stress in Children
Studies demonstrate that interacting with a dog changes the levels of norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol in the blood. These neurotransmitters help to reduce stress. Letting your child play with or pet Fido can help them cope with stressful situations.
Understanding the Cycle of Life
We don’t like to think about it, but most of us outlive our dogs. When children lose a beloved pet, they learn about mortality and how the cycle of life works. By nurturing our kids during the grieving process, we help them to appreciate life and the time we have.
They Provide Stability
Dogs can help give children a sense of security and stability that gives them the confidence to explore the world around them. In addition, a bond with a pooch may enable kids to regulate their emotions and cope with uncertain situations like divorce or foster care.
They Can Help An Only Child
Whether you have one child by choice or circumstances beyond your control, a dog can help. Some studies demonstrate that having a pooch helps prevent loneliness. For an only child, Fido can become like a four-footed sibling that they need to respect. Pups help only children share their time and space, be kind, and show love much as they would do with a brother or sister.
They Teach Selflessness
With a pooch in the house, kids learn to accept the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Dogs need care and attention, and they foster a sense of selflessness and responsibility for another creature.
They Improve Fast Thinking
This may be surprising, but one psychological effect that dogs have on people is they can help us think faster on our feet. By taking care of a pet, kids get daily practice at making decisions. This mental training builds the ability to think more rapidly, and it can carry over into other areas of your child’s life.
Reducing Anxiety in Children
A 2015 study from the Centers for Disease Control compared kids living with dogs to those in non-pet homes. The researchers found that children with pet dogs at home had significantly lower levels of anxiety than kids without a furry friend.
As people age, they often feel more isolated and lonely. Whether they’ve lost a life partner or have become homebound, seniors can have a sense of being closed off from society. Owning a canine companion can help older individuals avoid depression and feel more socially connected.
Seniors can still feel isolated even if they join a retirement or senior living community. Getting a dog to care for helps foster friendships with their fellow residents.
Caring For a Dog Gives a Sense of Purpose
When a senior has a dog to care for, the daily tasks of feeding, watering, and playing with their four-footed companion provides routine and purpose.
Promotes Living in the Present
Having a dog or other pet helps keep seniors focused on today. After all, furbabies live in the present. Interacting with a canine companion can help keep seniors from worrying about an unknown future or dwelling on the past.
Increases Mobility and Independence
When seniors live alone, they may become less mobile. Pets can help motivate elderly individuals to get up and moving every day. A service or companion animal may also aid people with hearing loss by signaling when the phone or doorbell rings or if an alarm sounds. This allows impaired seniors to maintain their independence longer.
Dogs Keep Them Active
Dogs need to go for walks every day. As seniors bond with their special pals, they often take longer and more frequent strolls to enjoy the companionship. A 2016 study from the University of Missouri linked bonding with a dog to more frequent activity and a string of social and physical benefits.
Dogs may help reduce stress and anxiety for people with Alzheimer’s. Pups can also be trained to distract and redirect their owners’ focus when the person becomes agitated. Other valuable services for seniors with these conditions include preventing the patients from wandering away from home, guide their owners through daily routines, and support their balance.
Help People With Parkinson’s
A service dog can be a helpful partner for a senior with Parkinson’s. These pooches are trained to assist their owners with balance and walking and help them get up from a chair or after a fall. When the patient stumbles, the pup can also alert other family members. Of course, having a dog also keeps their humans moving, and exercise can benefit people suffering from Parkinson’s.
As life expectancy increases, more seniors are showing signs of decline in memory and cognitive abilities. Service dogs can be trained to assist individuals in the early and middle stages of dementia. Pups thrive on routine and can help their elderly caregivers remember things like medication and mealtimes. As walking companions, they can also lead their humans home so that they don’t become lost.
Help to Ease Anxiety and Pain
We’ve mentioned that canine companions can help relieve feelings of anxiety by triggering the release of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and oxytocin. Because there’s a physical connection between stress, anxiety and chronic pain, having a dog in your later years may help alleviate pain from arthritis and other conditions.
Dogs can provide seniors with a sense of security and protection. Some criminals target the elderly. But, if there’s a barking dog, burglars and muggers will often think twice.
Improve Home Security
One way that dogs can help boost security in the home is by their heightened senses. Our pups will hear and smell a person long before we do. As a matter of fact, their sense of smell is 10,00 times stronger than it is for humans. In addition, some breeds, such as Dobermans, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds, appear more menacing to strangers. Their mere presence can deter intruders.
Family Bonding Time
Dogs provide extra incentive for a family to spend time together. Plan a trip to the local bark park, take a walk with the kids and Fido, or get the whole family involved in training your new puppy. A side benefit is a socialization with other people in the neighborhood.
Dogs Bring the Family Together in Decision-Making
If you’re thinking about getting a dog, you can involve the kids in the process. Plan a family trip to the shelter or a local breeder, and let everyone have a say in which pup you choose. This builds ownership in taking care of Fido and helps the family to bond in the process.
They Help to Start and Maintain New Friendships
Dogs can be terrific ice breakers. It’s common for owners to stop and chat with others while they’re at the local bark park or walking with their pup. One survey showed that pet owners were 60 % more likely to meet new people in their neighborhoods than those without an animal.
They Boost Confidence
When you own a pet, you’re responsible for another being. That means you have to make decisions and be in control when the unexpected happens. Learning to respond quickly when you need to can help to build your confidence and feel like you’re in command no matter the circumstance.
They Increase Self-Esteem
A series of studies conducted at Miami University and St. Louis University in 2011 found that pet owners had higher scores for self-esteem, tended to be more conscientious, felt more socially fulfilled, and were more able to recover from rejection than non-pet owners.
Dogs Improve Mindfulness
Dr. Ann Berger from the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, says, “The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness.” Most dogs naturally model this behavior so that we can learn to be more mindful.
They Can Make You Appear More Attractive
Dog Trust, a charity for canine welfare, conducted a survey of 700 people. They asked respondents how a dog could help them find a romantic partner. 60% of the participants said having a pooch increased a person’s attractiveness, and 85% thought individuals with a furbaby appeared more approachable.
They Help You Get Ready to Have Kids
Adding a pup to the household can be a helpful bridge to having children. A new dog adds unplanned disruptions to your schedule. You learn to set aside your needs to care for something else. Going through the process of housebreaking and training a furbaby can prepare you mentally for bringing a baby home. What’s more, bonding with a four-footed pal can stimulate parental feelings.
They Help You Keep Balance
Depending on your major, college life can be really stressful, so some universities are using animal visitation to help students cope. A study conducted at Washington State University evaluated the effects of petting a dog for 10 minutes. They found that people who had the animal contact had lower cortisol (a stress hormone) levels than those who were not able to see or touch a pup.
They Can Help to Fight Homesickness
Going away to college can be a traumatic experience for some students. Assistant Professor John Tyler Binfet of the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus says that enrollees are more likely to drop out if they’re experiencing homesickness. He and his colleagues conducted an 8-week study on the effect of interaction with therapy dogs with first-year students. Participants in the program showed decreased levels of homesickness than those that did not interact with the pups.
They Help Maintain Balanced Stress Levels
We’ve talked about how dogs can reduce stress levels. This carries over to the workplace. Studies show that bringing Fido to work can reduce stress and increase a sense of job satisfaction. One thing: before you introduce a bring your pooch to work day, make sure none of your employees have significant allergies.
They Boost Office Morale
Greater job satisfaction as seen in the study cited above helps to lift morale in the office environment. Interacting with dogs during the day may also improve company culture and encourage friendliness.
Contrary to what you might expect, bringing dogs into the office tends to increase employee productivity rather than distracting them from their jobs. Some studies suggest that people have enhanced performance when they’re happier and not experience stress. Incorporating breaks where your workers can interact with a dog may boost their performance.
They Help Improve Communication
Because dogs can be good ice breakers and stimulate social interaction, they can help break down barriers and build teamwork. The last thing you want at work is poor communication because it can stifle productivity.
When you can keep morale up and your employees happy, it’s easier to keep people in the company. Low turnover benefits productivity and your bottom line. According to Fortune.com, 53% of workers currently in non-pet-friendly offices say they’d be more likely to stick around if their boss let them bring their pet to work.
Improved Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Dogs can improve teamwork through increased trust and collaboration according to a study conducted at Central Michigan University. People who worked together on a project while a dog was present, “ranked their team-mates more highly on measures of trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those who had not.”
Encourages Healthy Living
You can incorporate a dog into your employee wellness plans. After all, Fido needs to get outside from time to time. Set up a walking rotation to get your workers moving. A quick walk in the fresh air can increase productivity as much as 60%.
Millennials Want Pets
For many millennials, the ability to have a pet at work is a huge selling point. According to Bob Vetere of the American Pet Products Association, if you let this generation bring their pet to work, “you get someone more comfortable at the office and a person willing to work longer hours.”
They Improve Your Company Image
The presence of a dog or two can also bolster the company image and goodwill. According to Mary Hope Kramer, customers usually respond positively to a pet in the office. Interacting with a pooch can help them enjoy their visit to your business.
Improved Work/Life Balance
When your employees can bring Fido to work, it helps them balance their home responsibilities with work demands. They won’t need to run home to feed and walk the dog because he’s at the office. With their faithful friend by their side, workers can also incorporate some rest and relaxation into the day when the dog needs a potty break.
Because employees find the workplace more enjoyable and relaxing when they can bring Fido, they’re less likely to take unneeded “personal days” off. Lower stress levels can also result in fewer illnesses.
Service dogs can benefit patients suffering from the autoimmune disease, Lupus. Depending on the severity and nature of the person’s symptoms, trained animals can provide mobility or psychiatric assistance for these individuals. Some people with Lupus suffer from extreme anxiety, and a service dog may be able to detect signs that an attack is starting and take action to support their master.
Type 1 Diabetes
One surprising study showed how the responsibility of caring for a pet fish helped teenagers manage their diabetes. Having a regular routine carried over into other areas of daily life. The kids that had responsibility for a pet were more disciplined about monitoring their blood glucose levels.
Studies involving autistic children suggest that youngsters growing up in a household with a family pet tend to develop more social skills like sharing and offering comfort. Other research with guinea pigs showed that spending even ten minutes with a furry friend helped drop anxiety levels and increase social interactions with peers.
Recovery From Brain Injury or Stroke
These are a few of the ways that service dogs aid in brain rehabilitation.
Coping With OCD
For a person suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder(OCD), a trained pup can help prevent destructive behaviors like picking at your skin or pulling your hair. A pooch trained as an OCD service dog recognizes negative behaviors and will do something to distract you and disrupt the activity. They also help to ease the anxiety that a person with OCD might experience.
Help With Sleepwalking Disorder
Sleepwalking can be dangerous. With a trained service dog, many of the risks can be minimized. A pooch can learn to close doors and windows and move obstacles to make a clear path. They can also walk beside their owner and guide them during a sleepwalking episode.
Coping With Narcolepsy/Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS)
A person with narcolepsy or EDS can fall asleep suddenly with little warning. From observations in her clinic, Mary McNeight, CPDT-KA, CCS, BGS of Service Dog Academy in Washington reports that dogs may be able to give a 5-minute warning of an oncoming sleep attack. This provides time for the individual to sit or lie down or for the pup to stand in front of their owner and break their fall.
Coping with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)/Parasomnias
Dogs may be useful in detecting a person with OSA based on the smell of their urine. For patients coping with the condition, a service dog can be a useful part of therapy. Trained assistance pups will nudge or wake their owner if they stop breathing or if their positive airway pressure device comes off.
Coping With Bipolar Disorder
For those people struggling with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, a pooch can provide invaluable support. Pups offer comfort during periods of depression and reassurance when manic episodes bring on anxiety and hallucinations. A service dog for bipolar patients can also assist their owner by providing stability and routine, reminding people it’s time to take their meds, and interrupting behaviors that could be dangerous.
There are about 65 million people with epilepsy in the world and about 3.4 million of them live in the United States. Some service dogs are trained to alert their owners about an impending seizure. With this warning, individuals can take measures to avoid serious injury. These pups may also stay by the patient to prevent their harm during a seizure or alert other family members that a seizure is happening.
When people suffer from depression, dogs can help in a few ways. Just interacting with a pooch helps to increase levels of endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine. These chemicals stimulate good feelings. Additionally, dogs encourage structure and routine, and that prevents people from staying in bed all day long. Furry pals also give owners a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. All of these factors can help a person overcome depression.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
With a long-term illness like PTSD, pets can help prevent the onset of an episode by distracting their owner. Other studies suggest interactions with animals may decrease the severity of the attacks. For individuals that suffer from nightmares, dogs can be trained to wake their masters as soon as symptoms of a bad dream start. This provides the person with an escape and may help diminish the frequency of nightmares.
Coping With Panic Attacks
Emotional support dogs are an increasing part of therapy for many conditions. People struggling with panic attacks may benefit from interactions with a pooch. Holding or petting a pup can help to ease the anxiety and stress that triggers an attack. An owner can also train their furbaby to lead them out of crowds or other panic-inducing situations.
Coping With Hallucination
A person struggling with hallucinations or paranoia may benefit from owning a service dog. These pups can help their owners distinguish between delusions and reality. When a person isn’t sure if they’re hallucinating about people, they can command Fido to greet the visitor(s). If their furbaby doesn’t respond, they know nobody’s there.
What’s Your Reason for Having a Dog?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re old or young, single or married with children, there are lots of benefits to owning a furbaby.
What about you? Why did you or would you get a dog?
Leave a comment below. If you have a reason or benefit that I missed, I’ll add it to the list.