We love dogs. They provide us with so much in life; acting as motivational exercise partner, sofa snuggle-buddy, and even a non-judgemental shoulder to cry on when we’re sad. Their empathy, loyalty, affection and dependable nature truly shows why they are often referred to as ‘man’s best friend’.
Our age-old friendship with dogs is certainly second to none, but are we aware of the full range of benefits they offer us as pets? James Wellbeloved investigates how owning a dog can boost our health and wellbeing…
HEALTH BENEFITS OF OWNING A DOG
There are numerous health and wellbeing benefits that owning a dog can offer us, including:
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved mood
- Reduced stress
- Exercise and fresh air
- Companionship and emotional support
- Help with depression and anxiety disorders
Dogs have even been known to sniff out illness or disease in their owners, including cancer!
AN OUTDOOR EXPLORER
One of the main benefits of owning a dog is keeping fit. Being, on the whole, energetic animals, dogs encourage us to get up on our feet and out of the door. The benefits of fresh air and exercise to our health are significant, especially for many of us who have office jobs and often can’t find the time for a walk outside. Regular walks in the fresh air can improve blood pressure and heart rate, boost our mood and calm us down if we feel anxious or stressed.
So, if you’re stuck in a bit of an exercise rut and need that motivation to lace up your trainers, you can’t get a much better exercise buddy than a dog. Come rain or shine, hail or snow, dogs need to be walked, giving you no excuse to stay indoors.
Their enthusiasm and infectious enjoyment of walking also rubs off on us – why not copy your dog whilst walking, put your phone and headphones in your pocket and simply enjoy being in nature, noticing different sounds, smells and sights as you go. This mindfulness will help you to de-stress, relax and focus on the good things in life.
A SYMPATHETIC EAR
Although we are unable to communicate with dogs in a shared language, they make their feelings known in other ways.
For example, dogs seem to know when we aren’t feeling our best and will often lick or nudge us with their noses, in a way that seems as though they are doing their best to cheer us up. Many people report that their dogs have helped them through particularly tough times in life, providing licks and cuddles, encouraging them to leave the house for fresh air, or simply by being there and offering silent support.
Dogs have been shown to help those suffering from depression or anxiety, and those who find social situations difficult. For example, if you find it hard to talk to people, dogs are a fantastic ice breaker. People are more likely to approach and engage with dog owners – or if the dog takes matters into their own paws, they approach people of their own accord, encouraging their owner to socialise more.
For those who have depression or anxiety, the bond with a pet can really help their mental health. Spending time with dogs has been shown to lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase our levels of serotonin and dopamine, meaning that we feel happier and more relaxed. Further, many people who have depression feel aimless or hopeless and may struggle to structure their day-to-day life. Therefore, owning a dog gives them a purpose and a feeling that something is depending on them, for food, water, love and care.
Although dogs cannot exactly offer advice in the way that family, friends, or a therapist can, they will never judge you and will offer their unconditional love no matter what you may be going through in life.
A COMPANION FOR THE LONELY
Unfortunately, many elderly people are unable to enjoy the same quality of life they once had; often feeling lonely and socially isolated due to their spouse passing away, or friends and family living far away. For this reason, dogs are a great companion for the elderly.
They have even been known to lower blood pressure – something that could be key for this demographic. In particular, smaller breeds who need less exercise are ideal for elderly people, who may not be as mobile.
Even better, elderly people should consider adopting an older dog who is already toilet trained, much less boisterous than a young dog, and is happy to spend their time lying at their owner’s feet.
WHAT IS A THERAPY DOG?
As the health and wellbeing benefits of dogs were realised, therapy dogs have become increasingly more common. Therapy dogs are also known as Pets As Therapy (PAT) dogs, and can come in all shapes and sizes.
Therapy dogs receive special training, so they can be taken to hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and schools to offer love, companionship and comfort. They can also be trained to care for one specific owner, for example, those who suffer with autism or anxiety.
In order to make a suitable therapy dog, temperament is extremely important. A good PAT dog must be calm, gentle, well-behaved, patient and good with people and other animals. They must also be socialised to enjoy being fussed and petted, which will be the main duty in their role as a therapy dog. Potential therapy dogs must be tested on their character, manners and handling by a professional examiner before being allowed to work as a PAT dog.
Aside from being therapeutic, dogs have long been helping us with other aspects of life. Assistance dogs help adults and children with physical disabilities or illnesses such as dementia, offering practical support such as fetching them objects and opening doors, which gives their owner more independence, and emotional support, making their owner feel calmer and more confident.
So, there we have it – owning a dog can be truly beneficial for our health and wellbeing. For all the reasons listed above and more, we can see how dogs have truly earnt their place as man’s best friend, offering us love, companionship, affection and support in all aspects of life.