Psychology and Dogs: Why Dogs Really are Man’s Best Friend

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Dogs are known as man’s best friend, and for good reason. Our furry family members are with us through all of life’s ups and downs, and there’s something indescribable about the power of canine companionship. It’s clear that much of the nation feels the same, as dogs are the third most popular pet in the United States, following just behind cats and freshwater fish. 

Dogs have been bred over centuries for many reasons: hunting, herding, and security.  While dogs are still used for those purposes, today, many of us rely on dogs for their wonderful and steady companionship. Why are we so attached to our puppy pets? Dogs drive emotional well-being in a multitude of ways. This is true of all dogs, regardless of breed; whether you adopt a white lab puppy or a senior pitbull (or any breed and age in between), every pooch is special, and can provide amazing benefits for your physical and mental health. In this article, we’ll take a look at psychology and dogs, examining the mental, emotional, and physical benefits that Fido or Fluffy can provide.

Click on one of the benefits below to jump straight to that section, or read the post in full to learn why dogs truly are man’s best friend.

Dogs can help reduce feelings of stress

Daily life is rife with stressors, and that’s been truer than ever over the past few months. Recent research has shown dogs are proven to help reduce feelings of stress, especially when it comes to work responsibilities. How? Playing with or petting your dog may increase levels of oxytocin, a stress-reducing hormone, while decreasing production of the stress hormone cortisol. This can help you feel more relaxed and calm, so grab your pooch for some snuggles when you’re facing a particularly tough project or deadline.

When you hang out with your dog, the physical effects of stress are reduced as well. One study found that when individuals took care of dogs for a period of three months, their blood pressure dropped significantly, as did their reactivity to stress. What’s even more interesting – those in the study found that their blood pressure was actually lowest on the days they took their pooches to work.

Dogs can help ease symptoms of depression

In some ways, pets can be there for you in ways that other people may not. Their unconditional love comes with no expectations, they’ll keep all of your secrets, and they serve as the world’s best snugglers. If you’re living with depression, you may experience periods marked by feelings of loneliness. In this case, dogs can actually prove to be more helpful than other people – and science has proven it.  In a recent study, nursing home residents were visited by dogs; they found that residents reported less loneliness when visited by dogs alone than when they spent time with both dogs and people. If you are experiencing feelings of isolation, a dog may help significantly.

Dogs promote feelings of self-worth

Dogs require a great deal of care, but that level of responsibility may actually prove to be beneficial for your mental health. Some psychologists argue that taking ownership of a dog and applying your skills to keeping them healthy and happy can actually help you build your own self-esteem. Taking care of your pet proves that you can care for another creature and yourself, which may enhance feelings of self-worth.

Dogs encourage physical activity

Pets help their owners get out and exercise; dogs require physical activity, and if you’ve got a more active breed on your hands, you’ll need to take them out more often. While this can keep your body in great shape, exercise also has a significant impact on mental health. Regular exercise increased the production of endorphins, which help fight off feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Physical exercise also helps reduce the symptoms of depression; a recent study found that walking for an hour a day reduces the risk of major depression by 26%

Because a dog requires consistent exercise, you’ll be more likely to create and stick to a daily routine. Numerous studies have shown that consistency actually helps with stress management, and can ultimately improve your sleep patterns, which also impacts your overall mental health. Taking Fido out once a day can offer many physical health benefits, as well. One study followed over 2,000 adults and found that dog owners who regularly walked their dogs were more physically active and less likely to be obese than those who either didn’t own a dog or didn’t walk their dog.

Research has also seen firsthand the way dogs can provide both mental and physical health benefits; a 1980 study found that heart attack victims that had pets survived beyond the one-year mark more often than heart attack victims who did not have a pet. Fifteen years later, they recreated the same study – and saw the same results. 

Dogs help us meet other people and increase socialization

Dogs provide a reason to speak to other people; on walks or at the dog park, other people are more likely to strike up a conversation, especially when your dog serves as a great discussion starter. Increasing your daily socialization may help alleviate feelings of isolation or loneliness and help you forge connections with others, which is crucial to holistic mental health. 

Bottom Line

With so many benefits to be gained from pups, it’s clear to see the reason dogs are called man’s best friend. If you’re considering getting a new fluffy friend, you may see clear improvement in your mental and physical health by taking the plunge and adopting a pet. Dogs bring overwhelming happiness to our lives, and life’s stressors are no match for the comfort they provide. Have you noticed any major improvements in your life since getting a dog? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

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