Owning a dog is a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But there are few experiences in life that match the unconditional love a canine companion can bring.
In fact, the benefits of owning a dog go far beyond their love and affection. Here are five ways a dog can improve your life, health and happiness.
1. Being With a Dog Releases the “Love Hormone”
You know that feeling of comfort and relaxation when you’re with someone you love?
That’s caused by a neurotransmitter called Oxytocin (also known as the “Love Hormone”). This is released in large quantities when you stroke or cuddle a dog, which is why spending time with a dog is often so enjoyable.
Of course, feeling loved by your dog isn’t just a trick caused by brain chemicals. Your dog really doeslove you more than anything in the world – and that’s a wonderful gift.
2. Dogs Force You to be Social
With more of us spending our lives behind a computer screen, opportunities for natural and low-pressure social situations are becoming less common. This is especially difficult if you’re an introvert, as it’s easier than ever to avoid social interactions.
A dog can help with this. You’ll often meet other dog owners on walks and naturally say “hello” or exchange pleasantries. Training classes, pet stores and even online dog-related groups are also places to meet like-minded people.
The great thing about meeting another dog owner is that there’s always a convenient topic of conversation – your dogs! While these interactions might be short, they can build your confidence and still provide many of the benefits of regular social activities.
3. Dogs Can Ease Depression and Stress
I already mentioned that stroking a dog releases Oxytocin – but that’s not the only effect it has on our brain chemistry.
Spending time with a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress. This is due to the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which are vital for stress reduction and relieving feelings of depression.
Many people with depression also find the act of caring for a pet provides an external focus. Your dog needsto be fed, walked and played with, so there is always a purpose for the day. And, when you’re feeling down, it can be wonderful to snuggle up with a friend who you know will never judge or criticise.
4. Children Growing Up With Dogs Are More Emotionally Intelligent
As a parent, you can definitely be forgiven for thinking that adding a dog to an already busy schedule is a step too far. But recent studies have shown that children who grow up with pets develop better emotional intelligence – which is a vital skill in later life.
Emotional intelligence incorporates a variety of different aspects. Children with a pet are more likely to be compassionate, have higher self-esteem and to have more control over stress. They also develop a better understanding of the concepts of life and death – which can be a tricky area for parents to address.
Why does a pet provide such benefits though?
It’s thought that learning how to care for an animal teaches children to have empathy for other living things. The stress relieving benefits of a dog also apply to children, which may be why they grow up with greater control of their emotions.
While the studies have only looked at children with pets, there’s no reason to think the same couldn’t happen to adults – especially as emotional intelligence can be improved (unlike IQ).
5. Dogs Teach You to Live in the Moment
Dogs don’t worry about next week’s presentation or whether they’ll get that promotion. They also don’t ruminate on an embarrassing moment or replay an awkward silence again and again. Instead, they live to enjoy each and every moment.
While the ability to plan and learn from mistakes is a vital part of being human, we could all benefit from spending more time in the moment. That’s the core concept of mindfulness – and it’s something dogs have already mastered.
There are many ways a dog can improve your life. Aside from their unconditional love, dogs can benefit your emotional, physical and spiritual health in ways you would never expect.
So, if you have a canine friend, make sure you give them some extra attention and maybe a treat or two. They deserve it!