Most people know that dogs are good for one’s wellbeing, but these creatures literally improve one’s physical and mental health.
Dogs are medicine.
1. They lower our blood pressure
Research has proven time and time again that dogs significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure, before and after performing strenuous tasks. Blood pressure drops when one pets a dog. Petting dogs have also been known to ease pain and improve one’s immune system. It is like a dog’s mere presence is beneficial for pet owners.
2. They offer a soothing presence
Pets, particularly dogs, offer a soothing presence when one is performing tasks that take up a lot of mental energy. This goes a long way in helping speed up recovery of mental conditions. It is well-known that some children will only respond to animals due to trauma or autism or intense anxiety.
3. They offer unconditional love and acceptance
Dogs are incapable of criticizing, judging or voicing their opinions. They snuggle up next to you even if you smell like poop. Two reports describe the medical benefits of pets. According to a 2013 white paper from the American Heart Association “…owning a pet, particularly a dog or a cat, is associated with decreased cardiovascular risk factors.” The November 2015 Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research published research showing “pet therapy programs have been shown to be effective in helping improve socialization abilities, lower blood pressure, and combat loneliness.”
There are other great therapy pets : “Benefits have been seen in owners of pets ranging from dogs, cats, birds, and fish to goats, chimps, and snakes.” Be sure the right animal is matched to the owner.
4. Dogs alter our behavior
You or your child could come home annoyed at a million little problems that happened during the day, and maybe even taking anger out on someone. But imagine that before this happens, a smiling, tail-wagging dog walks up for attention.
Imagine, you or your child kneels and pets her, she licks your face and you smile. Just like that, your behavior is altered and chances that someone will become a casualty of frustration are now much better. People calm down in the presence of a dog, and don’t anger easily or use curse words. Dogs make us slow our minds and our speech.
5. Dogs promote touch
There is no disputing the healing power of touch. An article published in the Huffington Post cites that a 45-minute massage can reduce the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and build white blood cells which optimize one’s immune system. Hugging floods human bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that lowers heart rates, blood pressure and stress levels.
A study conducted at the University of Virginia showed that holding hands reduces stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which makes up part of the emotional center. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that stroking a dog can boost dopamine and serotonin levels while lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
6. Dogs distract us
It’s not a problem but a benefit! Dogs take us out of our heads and plunge us into another reality – one that involves affection, food, water… and scratching doggie butt for as long as we allow it. Distraction is sometimes the only thing you or your child needs when you have lost mental or emotional control. It is tough to ponder feeling awful when your dog is breathing in your face.
7. Dogs make us responsible
Owning a dog comes with responsibility and research has shown that responsibility promotes mental health. Psychologists assert that applying our skills to a job and taking ownership of a task helps build our self-esteem, which is why dogs are the most common therapy animals. When your child nurtures a happy healthy dog, it reinforces confidence and a sense of competence. This is especially important for troubled children who are often overtaken by their own thoughts and emotions. Finally, pet care helps kids and teenagers learn independence and brings structure to their day.
Dogs pull a depressed or anxious child (or parent) out of their troubled head.
8. Dogs increase social interaction
Staying connected to other people or creatures is good for our depression. Starting a conversation is particularly scary for people suffering from depression. That isn’t true with dogs. They are natural social magnets that help pet owners connect with other people and maintain positive social contact. Walk a dog, and people come up to meet the dog.
9. Dogs help one get into physical shape
Other than grooming, dogs need physical stimulation. This means taking walks and going out to a park to play. In the process of tossing a Frisbee or hiking with your pup, you get to exercise and enjoy nature simultaneously.
The energy boost consequently boosts your mood or blow off some steam. Blood flow and oxygen to the brain is good for depression. When outside with a dog, your skin synthesizes vitamin D from the sun, which helps fight symptoms of depression.
10. Dogs are great listeners
The most effective way to release stress is to talk about it with someone. But what if you don’t have the courage to approach a friend? What if the idea of talking about your innermost worries makes you anxious? Pet owners, particularly those who own a dog, will share their wishes and thoughts with a caring partner, with the guarantee that they won’t be disclosed to someone else. Even better, you can talk about your worries knowing that you won’t be judged
11. Dogs provide sensory stress relief
Movement and touch are some of the most effective ways to manage stress. Dogs offer the need for touch such as in grooming, petting and exercising them. Such tasks also help with sensory stress relief, which is particularly important for people suffering from depression.
12. Dogs help you find meaning and joy in life
Taking care of a dog can help lift morale and increase a sense of self-worth, optimism, and fulfillment. If you’ve adopted a shelter dog, it’s also fulfilling to know you (and your child) provided a home to a dog that may have otherwise been euthanized.
Take care of your dog and your dog will take care of you.
The physical and mental health benefits of owning a dog for children, teenagers, and even the elderly are proven by research.
Note: Owning a dog is not a miracle cure for a family and child coping with anxiety and depression. Dogs are for those who appreciate and love domestic animals, and those who invest money and time to keep their dog healthy and happy.
By Andy McNaby