We all need companionship, and everyone benefits from healthy relationships. We usually think of people-based relationships in this context, but the strong association between humans and dogs has been documented since the Stone Age. Many pet owners understand the benefits of owning a dog. Now a growing body of research is supporting the long-time observation that owning a dog can provide significant emotional and physical benefits.

The Canine Connection: A Source of Health and Happiness

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, dogs emerge as natural stressbusters. The unconditional love and companionship they provide have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels in several scientific studies. The rhythmic act of petting a dog triggers the release of oxytocin, promoting feelings of calmness and well-being in humans.

The social aspect of dog ownership can’t be overlooked. Whether it’s meeting fellow dog owners at the park or simply engaging with your pet during walks and downtime, increased social interaction has a positive impact on your mental health, and it fosters a sense of connection. One study found that close to 70% of dog walks led to at least one spoken interaction between the dog owner and a stranger.

Since they rely on people to feed and shelter them, dogs offer a sense of purpose that might otherwise be missing from a person’s life. Having a sense of purpose is key to healthy aging and mental health.

The Physical Benefits

Besides not smoking, regular exercise is the most important predictor of physical health. Several studies demonstrate that dog ownership leads to a more active lifestyle, and dog owners are more likely to achieve recommended exercise levels compared to non-owners.

One of the most exciting discoveries of the past decade is the correlation between dog ownership and heart health. In 2013, the American Heart Association concluded that pet ownership is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. Multiple studies have further demonstrated lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and healthier weights among pet owners.

There are also numerous studies underscoring the therapeutic benefit of canines in relation to improving pain management, and aiding recovery and rehabilitation from many acute and chronic health conditions.

Allergies can be a concern for any household. Surprisingly, exposure to pet dander and microbes at an early age appears to reduce the risk of a child developing allergies[1]. This may apply to food allergies as well. The presence of a furry friend appears to contribute to a healthier immune system in children.

What if You Can’t Own a Dog?

Some people don’t have the time, resources, or physical stamina to support a full-time relationship with a dog. The good news is that ownership is not necessary for the benefits of canine companionship. Depending on your situation, there are several ways to realize dog-related health benefits. One might consider pet-sitting, walking a friend or neighbor’s dog, or fostering a needy animal. If you are home bound or ill, there are local agencies who can bring therapy dogs to you.

Certainly, dogs are not the only pet that improve health. Cats, guinea pigs, fish and other pets can supply many of the same health benefits with less burden and responsibility on the owner’s part.

Tips for New Dog Owners

Dog ownership comes with responsibility. Here are a few tips to keep your dog healthy and happy next year and beyond.

  1. Establish exercise habits. Make sure your dog gets regular exercise through daily walks and runs. Different breeds have different exercise requirements, so make sure you and your dog are a good match.
  2. Keep to a routine. Dogs like to know what to expect – establish regular routines for grooming, feeding and playtime.
  3. Have some quality bonding time. Whether it’s a game of fetch or relaxing on the couch, shared experiences strengthen the connection between dog and owner.
  4. Dogs need a balanced diet and routine health care, such as grooming and immunizations. Don’t commit to ownership unless you have the time and resources to accommodate a healthy pet.

There are so many dogs with different needs and abilities, you are likely to find a good match for your lifestyle with a little research. But it is important to understand the responsibilities of pet ownership. For information to assist first time dog owners, check out these 14 Tips for First-Time Dog Owners[2] from Daily Paws.

In closing, dog ownership provides numerous health benefits, including emotional, social, and physical support. We hope you take the time to cultivate this wonderful resource.

[1] Exposure to dogs and cats in the first year of life and risk of allergic sensitization at 6 to 7 years of age https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12190366/

[2] 14 Tips for First-Time Dog Owners https://www.dailypaws.com/dogs-puppies/dog-adoption/first-time-dog-owner-tips

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