Dogs Help Humans More than We Think

Ilana Quinn
Photo by the author

I used to be afraid of dogs. I don’t know where exactly this slightly irrational fear came from, but I remember being absolutely terrified when I went over to a friend’s house, only to discover her family had a husky.

When my parents told my brother and I they wanted to adopt a dog, I was reluctant. Despite our family having adopted an abandoned German shepherd from the SPCA before I was born, as I grew older, I somehow became timid and unsure around the slobbering, though undeniably endearing animals. But it is a well-known fact all puppies are adorable, so I agreed to visit a litter of newborn pups that needed to be adopted.

From the moment a golden-mountain dog curled up at my feet, I was smitten. As the runt of the litter, she was the most shy and unsure of all the sights and sounds around her. She was terrified of almost everything at first — including the jumping sound of the television and especially the vacuum — but eventually, she became energetic and comfortable with her surroundings. Now, everyone in our neighbourhood knows her as the extraordinarily friendly dog.

When I look back and remember how strangely against adopting another dog I was, I find myself aghast. Adopting a dog has been one of the most rewarding and comforting things our family has done in years past. While adopting any pet is beneficial, being a dog owner comes with specific physical and mental health benefits that cannot be replicated.

1. You go on more walks

This may seem obvious, but being a dog owner means going on more walks.

Sometimes — especially in the winter when the ground is packed with snow, or during a heatwave — walking can become an inconvenience for many people. The responsibilities that come with being a dog owner include walking at least once or twice a day.

The good news is, walking comes with a plethora of physical and mental health benefits. Not only does walking help strengthen your heart and muscles, decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, and ease joint pain, it also serves as a bulwark against various mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. When we walk or partake in other kinds of physical activity, we release endorphins which contribute to overall happiness and reduced stress.

As someone who has struggled with anxiety in the past, walking once a day has been critical for improving my mood by helping me clear my head after a difficult day. During the pandemic when school, work and almost everything else was shut down, walking with my dog became something I did for more than just physical fitness. It helped me remain calm and centred.

2. Dogs help seniors

It is widely believed that dogs help seniors with cognitive and mental health. Having a dog or another beloved pet around provides significant meaning and a positive social bond for elders who are living in care homes or are homebound for health-related reasons. For this reason, many care homes have introduced “animal visits” to implement pet therapy for their residents.

According to a 2011 study, pet therapy significantly reduced the symptoms of mental illness and cognitive disorders amongst seniors living in care homes. Seniors experienced positive social interactions when spending time with animals and displayed elevated moods.

3. An increase in empathy

Those who are dog owners tend to be more empathetic than their counterparts. In particular, for children who grow up around dogs — signs of empathy and compassion are more commonplace in their daily lives.

A 2017 study found that children in dog-owning households exhibited positive behaviours such as compassion and reduced aggression, particularly towards animals.

Considering children who grow up with dogs or other pets are often taught an additional sense of responsibility through caring for their animals, it seems logical that they would be more inclined to be compassionate towards others.

Overall, there is a plethora of reasons to adopt a dog or another pet. Other than the fact that many dogs are in need of loving homes, adopting an animal comes with physical and mental benefits that last a lifetime.

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Los Angeles, CA

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