Written by FOTP Team
There's a good reason for welcoming the canine species into our lives – even if it was just a lucky coincidence. Dogs provide uncountable benefits to humans. Aside from the love you feel for your pet, did you know that you’re also reaping health benefits from your canine companion? Get ready to feel better-than-ever about your best bud.
The bond between dogs and humans is incredibly strong. But how did it begin?
It’s an unlikely tale about hunters and animals. Centuries ago, human beings were busy hunting, eating, and eliminating other species that competed for their food.
Around this time, they unexpectedly made friends with wolves. We don’t know why people started tolerating wolves around their families; it was an odd decision, especially when wolves would have been a threat to human babies. It was an unusual bond, but it must have worked.
Most historians believe that wolves were domesticated when humans began to adopt their abandoned young. Compelled by parental instinct, people would rear lonely wolf pups, and then discover that a grown wolf was a handy pal during the night in the wild.
(It’s up for discussion. Some people disagree with this theory – and we like the viewpoint that actually, Dogs Domesticated Us, which was published in the National Geographic in 2013, and argues that the friendliest wolves pursued humans for acceptance.)
However it began, humans bred from the friendliest and most useful wolves, and the earliest dogs were born. During the last two centuries, we’ve selected different characteristics to develop many breeds of canine companions – some sensitive, some loyal, some hardworking, and all utterly adorable.
Can the mere presence of a dog actively improve your health? It’s an audacious claim. But we’ve rounded up the scientific studies to prove it.
Let’s start with the obvious: a dog will improve your physical health almost immediately. At a young age they require exercise and if that’s your responsibility, you can expect an increase in your own physical fitness. Dog ownership is known to improve outcomes for people with cardiovascular problems, which is largely due to increased exercise (plus, arguably, increased mental health). Walking at a brisk pace is one of the best forms of exercise, and it’s suitable for almost everyone – just start slowly and build up stamina for climbing the mountains! Some people drop a dress size when they get a dog – and walking is a brilliant excuse to get the kids out more, too.
But here are more health benefits that you may not have been expecting when you got a dog...
“Dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of death over the long term,” reports Caroline Kramer at the University of Toronto. In Dog Ownership and Survival (2019), researchers examined records of 3.8 million people and showed that the risk of death was 24% lower for dog-owners. So you can expect a longer life span and lower risk of disease (such as heart disease) when you bring a dog home.
In fact, you don’t have to own a dog: even spending time with dogs can improve your health outcomes. Another study showed that a 12-minute visit from a therapy dog lowered pressure in patients’ pulmonary arteries and reduced their stress.
It was widely reported during the pandemic that pets can carry coronavirus, a fact which may have worried some pet-owners. One study provided evidence: writing Do Pets Protect Their Owners in the COVID-19 Era?, researchers found a 54% occurrence of coronavirus in dogs in North America.
But this, they argue, is no bad thing: exposed to small amounts of the virus, owners develop a more robust immune system and may be better-equipped to fight COVID-19. For a long time, dogs have been harbouring micro bacteria and introducing new diseases to their families – but often the humans of the household won’t even know. In this way, dogs actually help to build-up the immune systems of the adults and children in the home.
Dogs can lower humans’ blood pressure simply by taking them out for walks on a daily basis! But even if you remove variables like heart disease and health conditions, humans can expect lower blood pressure when they spend time with a dog. One study took a group of 9-16 year-olds and examined the effect of a canine companion on their blood pressure. Social Interaction and Blood Pressure showed that the presence of a dog during a reading session resulted in lowered blood pressure among the test group. The paper suggested that in a tense “experimental” situation, the subject relaxed significantly when the dog arrived!
More studies have shown that dog-owners are better at relaxing after stress. The authors of Cardiovascular Reactivity and the Presence of Pets, Friends, and Spouses set up a stressful situation by asking people to perform mental arithmetic. They were tested with and without their spouse, pet, or friend. Who was least stressed? The people with their pets. Not only was their blood pressure relatively lower, it also returned to normal levels more quickly.
Personal experience tells us that dogs prevent people from being lonely. In fact, dogs are often acquired by people who don’t have many close friends – perhaps because they have moved home or suffered a family bereavement. In 2019, an Australian study reported a very high (95%) reduction in loneliness for people who got dogs to alleviate psychological distress.
Dogs are undemanding companions. They are always present and can offer quiet affection, a daily routine, and a source of joy. For those reasons, your dog can be a very real source of comfort during bereavement. In Pet Ownership and Health Status During Bereavement, researchers studied symptoms of bereaved middle-aged women. They found that dog-owners experienced fewer psychosomatic symptoms and used less medication than non-pet-owners.
It’s funny how dogs have evolved to become our best friends. Loyal, protective, and often sensitive to our moods, our canine companions are better than most people! Older people who own dogs are likely to have better mental health, particularly if they have been bereaved: for those with very few friends, a dog means a lower risk of depression, according to one study.
In times of hardship, many of us will instinctively reach for the dog leash. Fresh air and time with our dogs is a form of therapy. It’s not just a feeling – it’s been thoroughly researched. In a review of studies looking at the effects of dog ownership on mental health conditions, a team of researchers showed that dogs can reduce stress, improve quality of life, and promote social interaction. These benefits actively improve the health of those suffering with disorders such as Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.
Most dog owners will acknowledge the way that their dogs get them outside more, helping them to meet people and increasing their fitness levels. All three are powerful weapons against regular stress. And they can be used in situations of more extreme stress, too. Many North American universities now run Therapy Dog schemes, providing doggy time to students who are stressed by exams – and studies show that it works. Therapy Dogs are popular in hospitals and even in prisons, where dogs can radiate a love for life that’s impossible to resist!
People suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may now be offered a Service Dog, which has been shown to reduce depression levels and improve quality of life.
We know this. You know this. And now science has proven that dogs make people happy! In a survey, 71% of dog owners reported that their dog has made them happier. During the pandemic, dog ownership made people feel less lonely and more socially supported – both of which improve our state of mind and perception of contentment.
Did you know that doggy-induced happiness is a biological fact? Cuddling a dog increases your level of oxytocin – the falling-in-love hormone. Studies have shown that humans purposely seek out their pets to restore oxytocin levels (theirs and the dogs’). A Swedish study showed that people sensed when their dogs needed stroking, and subconsciously maintained the hormone level. Dog ownership is often compared with parenting human babies, and gazing at your pet can induce the same kind of chemical reaction... unconditional love.
The next time you’re feeling a little sad, indulge in some retail therapy – for your dog. Another sweet study offered owners $5 to spend on their pets. They reported gaining more happiness than those who were offered the same amount to spend on themselves.
For all these reasons, we believe that every human deserves a dog by their side. Have you found your perfect pooch yet? Check out our blog for the Top 10 Breeds for every kind of lifestyle – and bring home a little health-boosting puppy as soon as possible.