Dog owners know that being around our pups can always lift our spirits. Just coming home to those little faces and wiggling butts every day instantly makes a difficult day better. We create incredible bonds with our fur babies and there is no doubt that they are part of the family. Over 48 million households in the United States have at least one dog and 35 million households have children, so our fur babies are outnumbering our human babies!
Not only do our dogs provide us love and snuggles, but all of that actually makes our lives better. We may take care of them, but they can actually make us feel better by improving our bodies and minds.
So how exactly do our dogs improve our health and happiness?
Dogs get us to think outside of ourselves.
As a loving, responsible dog owner, we have to focus on caring for someone else. Having a pet who is solely dependent upon you for food, protection, comfort, health care, and being a part of a pack creates a situation in which you must set yourself aside for a moment and take on the needs of someone else. Showing kindness and caring to someone else activates the reward center of the brain and its dopamine receptors which disperses our “feel good” hormone. When released, dopamine (along with several other hormones) helps boost our mood and mitigate the impact of stress in our system. So by caring for our pups, we actually help ourselves.
Having a dog also tends to put you on a schedule. Feeding, potty, play, and sleep activities are all accomplished most effectively when done on a schedule. By having our pup on a schedule, this gets us up and moving instead of procrastinating during the day. Certainly, we do not want our days over planned and hectic, but having a rough schedule can keep us on track and less stressed. Your pet’s schedule can help you maintain your own.
Finally, the increased activity that you engage in with you pup can also lead to increased socialization as well. Dog owners tend to be more familiar with their neighbors or people in the community. We often run into the same neighbors on dogs walks (I know I tend to know my neighbor’s only by who their dog is!) or see the same people who go to the park at similar times/days as you do. This creates more opportunity to engage with others and increase social interactions, even if this is done on a very casual basis. This can help those who may be dealing with depression or feelings of isolation. It also is a great distraction for the day to day grind we may find ourselves in.
Dogs can make us more active
A British survey of 385 households (694 participants) found that dog owners spent an average of 300 minutes per week walking their dogs, compared to only 100 minutes per week of people who did not own a dog. The study also found that 80% of dog owners/walkers met their daily recommended levels of physical activity whereas only 29% of non-dog owners/walkers did. In addition, dog owners also were reported to walk/jog/run for recreation more often than non-dog owners. Finally, the study discovered that children who had a dog(s) in their home walked 285 minutes more weekly than children without a dog in the home. Overall, dog owners were found 4 times as likely to meet their recommended daily physical activity requirements compared to non-dog owners. With our culture of technology and sitting, anything that provides us an outlet for more movement is a plus for our bodies! There is no debate for the benefits of exercise (that is subject for a handful of other posts!) and ensuring your fur baby is getting his/her exercise, helps you get yours as well.
In addition, dogs create an environment for us to play. As children, play is essential and a source of great joy. As we get older, play is something that falls away from our daily routine, however our pups can draw us into getting down on the floor, rolling around, laughing and giggling. They get us to go outside and throw a ball or chase them. Either way, we get to do some of those fun things we did as kids. When we play (among other activities), we release endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that our brain secretes and gives us a sense of joy and excitement. That same chemical that produces a “runner’s high” when exercising is released when we play. Endorphins also help us with reducing pain and stress levels. A quick play session with your fur baby can increase your sense of well-being in both mind and body!
Dogs help our head and hearts
So, playing with your dog can improve your mood and help lower your stress levels which certainly can makes us happier, but did you know that even just petting your pup can improve your overall contentment as well? Research has shown that when we pet a dog our brain gets happy. It releases serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin which are hormones that elevate our mood, make us feel bonded, combat stress, and improve our sense of overall well-being. It also helps reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our blood which can have harmful effects on our health when sustained over long periods of time. Relaxing with one’s pet has even been found to have the same positive impact as when we eat chocolate! Can you imagine what happens when you eat chocolate while petting your pup??? (Now you are talking!)
Several studies have also shown that petting your pup can reduce your blood pressure because of the impact the release of these calming chemicals have on our heart. There is even some information that points to the reduction of cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels are some markers of a healthy heart and many Americans unfortunately take medications to address both of these. Impressively, it was even determined that dog owners have a significantly lower chance of dying one year after a heart attack as compared to non-dog owners. So, let your dog help your heart with some cuddling and loving!
Dogs teach us to live in the moment
Dogs do not worry about the past or the future, they are in the here and now and this is a habit that we all can benefit from. Our pups do not worry what people think –they are who they are and just go about their way, doing their crazy things. Each one has his/her unique funny behaviors that makes them unique and they are more their happy to let their freak flag fly.
They also the masters of self-care. They eat when they are hungry, nap when they are tired, and they rip off a few good zoomies when the inspiration hits them. There is a lot of be said for listening to your mind and body and giving both what they need. Dogs have no problem listening to their inner selves and by following their example, we can improve not only our health, but happiness in being true to who we are.
So the next time you just want to stay home on the couch with your fur baby-go for it-and know that you are not just lounging around being lazy, you are actually working to improve your heart, your head, and your happiness. So love on those cute pups and let your heart smile.