The Sentinel

10 Health Benefits of Having Dogs

Nov 16, 2021
Decreases anxiety
“Dogs provide unconditional love, and are a safe harbor when people are in distress,” says Leslie Sinn, DVM, DACVB, of Behavior Solutions, which helps pet owners with animal behavior issues. A variety of research shows that dogs help people relax and become less anxious.
Benefits kids with ADHD
Dogs can have a calming influence. In a 2015 study, children who received cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) with canine-assisted intervention experienced a larger decrease in the severity of ADHD symptoms. Social skills improved, and difficult behavior was reduced.
Lowers stress for college students
Dorm life isn’t just one big party. College students have always experienced a high level of stress, due to the demands of studying, getting a job and even getting too little sleep. Inspired by “Pet the Stress Away” programs on college campuses, researchers at Washington State University studied 249 students, some of whom interacted with cats and dogs. The results were extremely paw-sitive. The group that interacted with the animals had a significant decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone. Even more interesting? Stress levels decreased after only 10 minutes.
Lowers stress for kids
Several studies show that dogs lower stress levels in children. One study showed that after being exposed to something stressful, brief, unstructured interactions with dogs decreased kids’ anxiety. Another study showed that when a dog was present during a physical examination, children had larger decreases in arterial pressure, heart rate and behavioral distress. In other words, they were less stressed.
Lowers stress for everyone
Having a pet allows us to fulfill one of our most basic needs—the human need for touch. But that’s just the beginning of the benefits of owning a dog. In addition to research showing that just petting a dog lowers stress, a study showed that cuddling, playing and petting Rover increases the level of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which is the same hormone that helps bond moms to babies.
Decreases children’s anxiety
Animals don’t judge. I think that’s one of the things they do best,” says Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, of Veterinary Behavior Consultations. “For example, when a child is learning to read, and reads to a dog or a cat, they might be more comfortable, because no one is correcting them on the pronunciation,” she says. One study measured the effect of children when reading to dogs. It found that anxiety levels of children were lower when reading to dogs than when they weren’t reading to dogs, as measured by a decrease in blood pressure.
Helps older folks feel better
As we get older, our friends and family might move away or even pass away, physical limitations may prevent activities and it may become harder to socialize. That’s why having a pet is so important to older adults. In fact, one study found a variety of benefits for community-dwelling older adults who owned pets: they provided companionship, gave a sense of purpose and meaning, reduced loneliness, and increased socialization.
Reduces loneliness
In addition to being your buddy in the house and on the go, your dog can even help you make new friends. “Dogs are social magnets,” says Sinn. “They can help anyone meet people, but they are especially helpful with people who have problems engaging with others.” Case in point: One study showed that dogs help people with intellectual disabilities have social encounters, since more people talk to them when they have dogs.
Improves mood
It’s hard to be sad when you’re hanging out with Rover. Several studies confirm that we feel better when we’re with our dogs. One example, from the University of Missouri-Columbia, shows that participants who stroked their dogs for a few minutes experienced a release of mood-boosting hormones, including oxytocin, serotonin and prolactin.
Increases happiness
Doesn’t it feel great coming home to a wagging tale and a joyful pet? Science confirms that we feel a sense of wellbeing from having pets. In fact, one study found that pet owners were more satisfied with their lives than those who didn’t own pets.