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The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Owning A Dog

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"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." - Roger Caras

By Rebecca Nye

Rebecca Nye, Licensed Veterinary Technologist (LVT)

The saying “dogs are man’s best friend” couldn’t be more accurate. Dogs increase our quality of life and improve our mental and physical health. Once you experience the unconditional love of a dog, it’s hard to imagine your life without one.

Dogs perform many important tasks. They accompany law enforcement in search and rescue missions and assist in drug and bomb detection. Dogs can be trained to guide the blind, detect low blood glucose levels in diabetics and comfort those who suffer from mental illness as well as those with learning disabilities. You may already know that trained service dogs perform life saving duties, but did you know a companion dog can improve our general health?

Dogs Decrease Stress, Calm and Soothe

Dogs are scientifically proven to decrease stress levels. They have an incredible natural ability to calm and soothe. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we need love, affection and a sense of belonging before we can build self-esteem and achieve self-actualization. This includes our basic needs for touch and companionship. Stroking, cuddling or holding a dog fulfills our need for touch and doing so provides a calming effect that lowers high blood pressure.

“Dog ownership has had profound positive effects on my mental health and I truly believe it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Rebecca Nye

Dogs ease anxiety, loneliness and provide us with reliable companionship. Maintaining relationships is stressful. When your friend or family member storms out the door after an argument your dog does not follow, instead they remain by your side providing you with unconditional love, comfort and support. As someone who suffers from chronic mental illness, I find it difficult talking to others about my feelings because oftentimes I am bombarded with advice or criticism.

Dogs are amazing listeners. They don’t judge, criticize, interrupt, talkback or leave. Dog ownership has had profound positive effects on my mental health and I truly believe it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Dogs Encourage a More Active Lifestyle

All companion animals have the ability to calm, soothe and reduce anxiety; however, cats and small exotic animals are less likely to encourage a more active lifestyle. Dogs require exercise, which decreases blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Dogs encourage you to get out of bed and be active. Take it from me, my dog follows me around the house with irresistible puppy dog eyes until I take her on a walk.

HelpGuide states, “Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements.” Dogs that are under exercised often display behavioral problems, such as excessive chewing because they are bored whereas dogs that receive adequate physical activity are much more likely to be well-behaved. Playing ball, going on walks, runs or hikes are fun rewarding active ways to bond with your dog, however, there are a variety of physical activities you and your dog can do together, such as swimming, camping and canoeing.

“Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Dogs Help You Meet You Meet New People

Dogs encourage social interactions. They are social animals and usually enjoy being around other dogs and people. Introducing or talking about your dog with fellow dog lovers is a great conversation starter. Owning a dog creates several opportunities to meet other people with pets. Whether it’s on a walk, at the dog park, training classes, daycare or a pet store, there’s always opportunities to interact with others and make new friends. The majority of friendships I’ve made began over conversations about our pets.

There is so much that we can learn from dogs. Dogs live in the present, not the past or future. They love unconditionally and do not judge or criticize. Dogs have a positive effect on our mental and physical health by encouraging physical activity, meeting new people and lowering our stress levels.

Read: Stop It, Drop It: Common Household Pet Toxicities and What You Need to Know

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