Dogs, often hailed as humans’ best friends, have been the topic of many scientific studies looking into how they might boost our well-being. In this Spotlight, we’ll explain how your friendly pup can benefit your health across the board.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), an estimated 78 million dogs are owned as pets in the United States.
It is unclear when dogs were first domesticated, but a studyTrusted Source published last year claims that, at least in Europe, dogs were tamed 20,000–40,000 years ago.
It is likely that humans and dogs have shared a special bond of friendship and mutual support ever since at least the Neolithic period — but why has this bond been so long-lasting?
Of course, these cousins of the wolves have historically been great at keeping us and our dwellings safe, guarding our houses, our cattle, and our various material goods. Throughout history, humans have also trained dogs to assist them with hunting, or they have bred numerous quirky-looking species for their cuteness or elegance.
However, dogs are also — and might have always been — truly valued companions, famed for their loyalty and seemingly constant willingness to put a smile on their owners’ faces.
In this Spotlight, we outline the research that shows how our dogs make us happier, more resilient when facing stress, and physically healthier, to name but a few ways in which these much-loved quadrupeds support our well-being.
Just last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that showed that owning a dog reduces a person’s risk of premature death by up to a third.
Also, researchers at the University of Harvard in Cambridge, MA, suggest that dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease.
Why is that? It is difficult to establish a causal relationship between owning a dog and enjoying better health.
However, the benefits may appear thanks to a series of factors related to lifestyle adjustments that people tend to make after they decide to adopt a canine friend.
The most prominent such lifestyle factor is physical activity. There is no way around it: if you own a dog, you have to commit to twice daily walks — and sometimes even more
Dogs can strengthen our health not just as we grow older, but also much, much earlier than that: before we are even born.
Research published last year suggests that children who were exposed to dogs while still in the womb — as their mothers spent time around dogs during pregnancy — had a lower risk of developing eczema in early childhood.
Perhaps the most intuitive benefit of sharing your life and home with a canine friend is that dogs give you “feel-good vibes” almost instantly.
It is really difficult not to cheer up, even after a hard day’s work, when you are greeted with — often vocal — enthusiasm by a friendly dog.
This, researchers explain, is due to the effect of the “love hormone” oxytocin.
“During the last decades,” write the authors of a review that featured in Frontiers in Psychology, “animal assistance in therapy, education, and care has greatly increased.”
When we interact with dogs, our oxytocin levels shoot up. Since this is the hormone largely responsible for social bonding, this hormonal “love injection” boosts our psychological well-being.
Previous studies analyzed in the review have revealed that dog owners have more positive social interactions, and that the presence of canine friends makes people more trusting…and also more deserving of trust.