When I see a dog on the street, like children are often seen to do, I still point and go ‘Dog! Look at the dog!’ in a way that many adults might reserve for something a bit more extraordinary passing by. Dogs are great. That is a fact! Just the distant glimpse of a wagging tail can make me stop and smile.
However, as much as I have always taken this positive effect of dogs on my own emotions for granted, I have become increasingly interested in the growing number of research out there that suggests I am not the only one!
A recent Guardian article by Clare Allan (2014) notes that a recent study found that pet owners tended to be less lonely, less fearful, more extrovert and less preoccupied than non-owners. Here are some reasons why (Hark 2013):
Dogs need exercise. Even on the darkest and rainiest of days when you just want to curl up and watch TV your dog still needs a walk. They get you outside and fresh air has been proven to elevate your mood.
Not only does fresh air have positive benefits, exercise has long been known to improve your mood and help beat anxiety and depression.This also has the added bonus of improving physical fitness.One study of Chinese women found that dog owners exercised more often, slept better, reported better fitness levels and fewer sick days, and saw their doctors less often than people without dogs (webmd.com).
Getting outside and going for walks can help to lessen isolation. There are opportunities to meet other people through your dog. Whether you compliment someone on their cute puppy in the park or take a more long term approach by joining a local dog training club, it is a great way to get to know new people.
Having to care for your dog no matter what also gives you a purpose and a reason to get up everyday.In this way you are focusing on something other than yourself and this can help stop you getting overwhelmed with your own problems.
Similarly, a dog provides you with a routine. Having a daily schedule helps people with depression. A dog’s routine involves waking you in the morning, then demanding food and a walk. A routine can help you stay on track.
Playing with a dog is fun. There is no doubt that a good game of fetch, tug or running around chasing each other is simply great fun.
Dogs like to be petted, and we like to pet them! Petting not only reduces stress in your dog but it has also been proven to release hormones in you that relate to stress and anxiety.If you need any more proof then think of the great work of the charity PAT (Pets as Therapy). See https://www.petsastherapy.org/.
Dogs provide companionship.This helps reduce loneliness.‘Dogs: Their secret Lives’ on Channel Four recently demonstrated how intuitive dogs can be when it comes to human emotions. They know when we are happy and when we are sad and can respond accordingly.
Dogs listen.You can talk to your dog about anything and everything.
They will love you unconditionally. "Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression," says Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA (webmd.com).When you come home and your dog jumps around, excited and happy to see you, nothing can beat knowing that all your dog wants is to be with you.
Finally, dogs make you smile! How can you not smile when you see a face like this one?