By Helen Wallis
Dog owners will readily tell you about the special bond they have with their pet; a bond which brightens their day. This element of companionship is important but there is a myriad of ways your dog can keep you happy and healthy.
Better Cardiovascular Health
It’s vital to walk your dog every day, sometimes more than once, and this can have positive health benefits both for you and him. Increased exercise leads to lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular health. A study in Canada found that dog owners walked for 300 minutes per week compared to 168 minutes for their non-dog owning peers.
A further positive effect on blood pressure is the calming effect that dogs have on their owners. Petting your dog reduces stress and sends a rush of feel-good hormones into your bloodstream. Serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, the hormone connected with falling in love, are all released. No wonder dog owners are more laid back about life.
We as humans all crave connection and a dog fulfils this need in two ways. First, there is the owner’s sense of companionship with the dog. Dogs are not known as ‘man’s best friend’ for nothing; and many owners sense that with their dog beside them they can weather life’s storms. However, on a practical level dogs also foster better relationships between people. You are more likely to make connections with others when you are walking your dog as a dog encourages interaction and breaks down barriers.
Because of the connection you have with your pet a dog is also likely to help alleviate low moods. When you have to care for your dog, it can give you a sense of purpose, even in the bleakest times, and there is again that sense of connection with another living being.
Another benefit of owning a dog is that they can boost our immunity. If a baby is raised in a house with a dog, they show fewer tendencies towards allergies, asthma, colds and ear infections during childhood. This immunity boosting advantage needs to start early. The biggest benefit is seen in children who started living with a dog before they reached 6 months of age.
Work for Us
Dogs are also a huge boon in many professions. There are dogs who work with the police; customs; rescue services; and even with the armed forces. They put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve.
In a domestic setting dogs are also helping people as service and therapy dogs. There are those who are trained to help people with disabilities; some who can recognise imminent epileptic seizures; and even those who can detect a drop in someone’s blood sugar which could trigger a diabetic coma if action isn’t taken. Dogs now even enter the classroom. It has been found that children with autism and their peers relate better when a trained dog is present.
A dog’s nose is tens of thousands of times more sensitive to odours than our own and this gives them a unique ability in the fight against cancer. Research is being carried out in this area with dogs being used to detect lung and prostate cancer in urine samples. In 2015 the first cancer-detecting dogs were approved for an NHS medical trial with the charity Medical Detection Dogs starting a study in Milton Keynes University Hospital.
Great in the Workplace
Dogs really can offer benefits wherever they go and when dogs are present in the workplace employees report lower stress levels. This has the effect of increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism, leading to a more positive working environment.
This is something that is often taken for granted but dogs also offer us unconditional love, something that is sometimes lacking in our human interactions. It’s difficult to feel that all is not well with the world when your dog is so pleased to see you when you come home at the end of a long day.
Dogs Love Fun
Finally, a big reason that dogs are so good for us is they are fun to be around. Dogs live in the moment and are happy with the smallest things, whether that’s chasing a ball in the park or settling down next to us for an evening’s relaxation. Maybe what they can teach us about enjoying life is the biggest benefit of all.