10 Science-Based Benefits of Having a Dog
Written by Kaitlyn Arford for AKC.org
Unconditional love. Devoted companionship. Constant entertainment. Most of us dog lovers know that life is better with a dog. But is that knowledge based on a feeling—or is there something else at work? There is: Science.
Spending time with canine companions does wonders for your wellbeing. Recent research shows that owning a dog is good for you physically and emotionally. Dogs make us happier, healthier, and help us cope with a crisis—and can even help you get a date. Read on for 10 science-backed benefits of having a dog.
1. Dogs make us feel less alone.
Dogs can be there for you even when people can’t. They offer unconditional love, emotional support, and constant cuddles that help stave off social isolation. A small Australian study discovered that dog ownership reduces loneliness.
A national survey of pet owners and non-pet owners by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute found that 85 percent of respondents believe that interaction with pets reduces loneliness. Most agree that human-pet interactions can help address social isolation.
2. Dogs are good for your heart.
Owning a dog can help you live longer. A comprehensive review of studies published between 1950 and 2019 found that dog owners had a lower risk of death. Studies suggest that dog owners have lower blood pressure levels and improved responses to stress.
Even just living with a dog makes a difference—people who had experienced previous coronary events had an even higher level of risk reduction for death. Research has concluded that the bond between humans and dogs reduces stress, which is a major cause of cardiovascular problems.
3. Dogs help you stop stressing out.
Even just petting a familiar dog lowers blood pressure, heart rate, slows breathing, and relaxes muscle tension. Scientists at Washington State University discovered that just 10 minutes petting a dog can have a significant impact. Study participants had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.
4. Dogs help us cope with crisis
Dogs help us recover psychologically from a crisis. Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine discovered that military veterans with PTSD do better both physiologically and psychologically when they have a service dog. Veterans with a service dog had significantly fewer symptoms of PTSD and showed improved coping skills.
5. Dogs encourage you to move.
Those long treks along sidewalks, trails, and paths add up. A 2019 British study discovered that dog owners are nearly four times more likely than non-dog owners to meet daily physical activity guidelines. Dog owners spend nearly 300 minutes every week walking with their dogs. That’s 200 more minutes walking than people without a pup of their own.
6. Dogs make you more attractive—even virtually.
If you’re looking for a date, it might be time to get a dog. A dog’s presence may make people appear more likable and attractive.
A study by Pet Wingman found that men and women swipe right more when they include a profile photo of their pup. Women benefited more than men with dogs in their profiles. (And finding Fido photos on your camera roll shouldn’t be a problem—a study found that 65 percent of dog owners admit to taking more photos of their dog than their significant other.)
7. Dogs make us more social.
Walking with a canine companion can make us more approachable and give people a conversation starter. Think about how many times you’ve talked with other people, whether they’re your neighbors or new friends at the dog park.
Researchers have found that about 40 percent of dog owners had an easier time making friends. Dogs are the perfect way to get to know strangers and form new friendships.
A study at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University concluded that people who have a strong attachment to a pet feel more connected in their human relationships and their communities.
8. Dogs are so adorable they make us love them
There’s a reason why puppies are so irresistible: a dog’s facial features possess an “infant schema.” These “social releasers” trigger an innate caregiver response in humans. So the next time you can’t stop watching that dog video, know those big eyes and floppy ears are scientifically appealing.
9. Dogs make us happier
Just looking at a dog can lift your spirits: a 2009 study in Japan found that staring into your dog’s eyes raises your level of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” Besides the general health benefits of owning a dog, they are natural mood boosters. Those with AIDS are less likely to suffer from depression if they own a pet, according to a 2017 study.
10. Dogs help seniors with cognitive function and social interaction
Studies exploring the effects of dogs on seniors found positive results. One study found that pet therapy improves the cognitive function of residents with mental illness in long-term care. Another showed significant decreases in agitated behaviors in seniors with dementia and improved social interactions.
A four-footed best friend provides unconditional love and support, which is especially important during tough times. Though people may think we’re taking care of our canine companions, it’s mutual: Dogs take care of us, and science confirms it.