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Science & Psychology — April 19, 2012 10:17 pm

10 Unexpected Side Benefits of Having a Dog

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As dog lovers, we might be inclined to believe that dogs provide us with loads of benefits to our lives but there are actually some very unexpected side benefits to having a dog that you might not be aware of as a dog owner. Aside from providing us with companionship and entertainment, having a dog provides us with countless mental and physical benefits.

1. Dogs are a Mood Booster

Dogs have long been known to make great companions, but did you know that they actually improve your mood? Research has shown that it only takes a mere 15-30 minutes with your pet to feel more relaxed and calm (per Web MD). Playing with your dog also raises your brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that are associated with pleasure and tranquility. Psychologists from Miami and St. Louis Universities found that the benefits of having a canine companion can be equivalent to having a human companion. Looks like pooches can get your tail wagging!

2. Dogs are better than Medication

In addition to boosting your mood, your dog is also great for your health. Your body reaps a lot of benefits from having your fur baby around. Dog owners have been found to have lower cholesterol, blood pressure, fewer heart attacks and according to a study by the British Journal of Health (2004), dog owners also have the added benefit of having fewer medical problems than those without pets.

3. Dogs help you Reach Fitness Goals

An added unexpected benefit of having a dog is that he/she encourages you to exercise more! Taking your dog on walks and throwing the ball around makes for good exercise. Apart from the dog walking alone, dog owners were also found to achieve more advanced stages of movement compared to those who own dogs and do not walk them. The Journal of Physical Activity and Health (2010) concluded that dog walkers generally walked about an hour longer than their non-dog walking counterparts!

4. Dogs help you to be More Social

Have you ever thought of your dog as your wing man/wing woman?  While your dog may not make you totally irresistible to the opposite sex, having one around helps you be more social, approachable and can help some get over shyness. Doing activities with your dog such as going to pet stores, dog parks, or special events is great for both you and your furry friend, as it is a great way to meet new people and mingle with other dogs and dog lovers. A study by Britain’s Warwick University found that 40% of people reported making friends much easier as a result of owning a dog.

5. Dogs are Great Stress Relievers

Another great yet unexpected benefit of owning a dog is that they are masters at helping us relieve stress and feel calm. According to a study from SUNY Buffalo (2006), 240 married couples with dogs were subjected to various types of stressful tasks where they were either alone, with their spouse or were able to see their dog before or after the task. Unsurprisingly, the lowest responses to stress were among those who were allowed to see their dogs. Maybe there should be a mandatory “bring your dog to work” day!

6. Dogs Can Help Kids Grow Stronger

Getting your little one a furry companion can be beneficial? We all value our health and dogs can actually help contribute to keeping your child healthy just by being part of the family! According to Science Daily, kids who grow up with dogs in the home have fewer allergies and are less likely to have eczema. Kids with dogs in the home also have fewer sick days and grow up with higher levels of certain immune system supporters that keep them in tip-top shape as they get older.

7. Dogs Can Help with Cancer Research

Did you know that dogs and humans get the same type of cancer? Science Daily states that due to the similarities in the disease, dogs with cancer can help us to discover more about the disease itself and in turn, we can help advance treatment for cancer in dogs as well. There aren’t any unethical tests or procedures being performed on dogs, the medical field just takes the opportunity to study the cancer and discover new methods for treatment.

8. Dogs are Helpful in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Clearly, dogs are extremely helpful in helping people deal with medical issues. Dogs have been found to be beneficial to people with various medical issues, but especially with those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, says Science Daily. Dogs help people with RA to move more often and encourage play as well as helping them get their mind off of their condition. Dogs are great motivators to get moving and they sure are good at distracting us from things!

One of DogVacay's hosts, Eileen, has a service dog for her autistic son. Click photo to read about her journey.

9. Dogs are Excellent Companions for Kids with ADHD

Petwiki and WebMD agree that dogs make great pets for kids diagnosed with ADHD. Your child can release excess energy by playing with the dog and caring for the pet will also help teach your child responsibility. Dogs can also help calm your child. Many therapists have used dogs in treatment as they seem to have a calming effect on both adults and children and help people feel more at ease during treatment.

10. Dogs Can Make You a Better Person

We spend a lot of time training our dogs but those furry creatures teach us a lot, too. Having a dog teaches us patience, commitment and selflessness. Caring for a dog takes a lot of responsibility and commitment, and it also teaches us to be more patient and less selfish. You also learn to be less focused on yourself and more patient, as pets can sometimes test the patience of even the most tolerant people.

Dogs provide people with immeasurable mental and physical benefits and we are so lucky to have them around to enrich our lives! As if we need any more confirmation on the benefits of having a dog, scientific evidence shows how our fur friends make us healthier, happier and help us to lead all-around better lives.

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