As a dog owner, or dog carer, we’re already completely aware of how our dogs make us happier by providing a lot of cuddles and kisses, companionship and endless entertainment (as I write this, my dog is currently curled up beside me using the edge of my keyboard as a chin rest!). But there are a few other heart-warming reasons that you may have not realised, all of which contribute to making us healthier.
1) More exercise!
Our dogs require regular walking to keep them fit and well – which in turn helps us keep fit and healthy too! Studies show that dog owners walk more and have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and stronger hearts than non-dog owners. Whilst more energetic breeds such as spaniels and collies may require a minimum of an hour a day running around and chasing a ball, we know there are lazier breeds out there who may well prefer to stay at home in their beds and have a 20 minute whizz around the block.
Regardless, our furry friends encourage us to get up and out to lots of different places that maybe we would never have ventured to before. Quite recently, I took my dog Duke to the Lake District on a completely dog-friendly holiday with many hours of walking involved each day. Whereas we usually go for long strolls in the park or the woods… We were climbing to the tops of waterfalls and navigating our way around miles of lakes – he loved every minute and was a very tired dog!
2) Dogs are social magnets
While walking down the street ordinarily, approaching and having a chat with a complete stranger might be seen to be a little strange. If you have a dog, this social barrier seems to be broken and chatting to a fellow dog walker or a person with a cute looking dog seems a much more acceptable interaction that may otherwise not be possible.
Duke seems to attract a lot of attention from fellow dog owners and dog lovers alike because of his coat colouring and looks. Everyone is interested to know what breed he is (a rescued German Shorthaired Pointer X) and people actually make a beeline for him to give him a cuddle and find out more about him – and I love it! It makes walks with Duke that extra bit more enjoyable when people are happy to come over for a chat and let our dogs play and swap stories. I’ve met a countless amount of people and dogs in the last 2 years of having Duke because we, as dog owners, are drawn to each other. We all have that one thing in common – we love to talk about our dogs!
3) Having a dog can boost your child’s immune system
According to research published in Microbiome, children born into homes with pets have higher levels of gut microbes that protect against allergies and obesity. Researchers say that indirect exposure to furry friends is especially beneficial to babies in their first three months of life, and even while they’re still in the womb. So if you’re expecting and already have a fur baby – lots of extra cuddles could actually benefit the little one on the way and if you already have a child around the house – the loose fur, puppy kisses and sharing of snacks aren’t something to be too concerned about. Duke has always been around my four nieces and has been very helpful getting those last crumbs from their fingertips or even their cheeks!
4) Dogs are the best kind of medicine
Dogs can be an emotional support system for their owners. There are organisations that – after passing tests such as a temperament test through the charity – have qualified dogs and cats visit the elderly in homes to just provide pure love and companionship. How cute is that?! On completion of the necessary tests, owners volunteer to take their dogs to places such as residential homes, hospitals, hospices, schools, prisons and daycare centres, giving people there the opportunity to spend time with them, stroke them, show them some love and just generally enjoy some well needed cuddle time!
Dogs are also used to boost the confidence of children. Volunteers take their dogs to centres, schools or libraries and the children – some of whom may just purely lack confidence, others may have a speech impediment which makes reading quite frustrating stressful – can read to the dogs. Research show that the children relax more when interacting with the dogs which boosts confidence and improves their ability to read fluently. I have big plans for Duke to do something like this as a therapy dog. It’s a slow process, due to being a rescue, as it stands, he unfortunately wouldn’t pass some of the tests as he’s still too startled by loud noises and lots of people at one time can be far too overwhelming for him. But it sounds incredibly rewarding and something all pet owners should look into.
5) They simply can save lives!
As well as an emotional support system, dogs can be trained to be a medical aid to their owners. People suffering with illnesses such as diabetes can benefit from having a trained dog that can sense when their blood sugar dips too low or too high and give a signal by detecting an odour that is undetectable to humans in the body. People who have epilepsy have dogs trained to sense when a seizure is going to happen and give their owner a signal allowing them to find a safe place to lay down, take medication or call for assistance – something as simple as sitting directly in front of their owner or a nudge of the hand. Research has even shown that there have been dogs, with a success rate of 90%, sniffing out certain types of cancer – aren’t dogs’ noses incredible?
We all know what it’s like to have a really rubbish day, walk through the front door and have your dog greet you like you’ve been gone for a year – the feelings of stress, upset and anger dissolve when you’re met with pure happiness and unconditional love (although I get this greeting after I’ve been gone too long in the shower!). Spending as little time as 15 minutes playing with your dog can help boost your levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that improve your mood. They are associated with the release of hormones connected to tranquility and pleasure, and can help to reduce levels of harmful chemicals that are heightened when you’re stressed, like cortisol and norepinephrine, which can increase your chances for illness.
7) Dogs can help us, and our children, become better and more responsible people
When getting a dog or puppy, their welfare becomes a main priority in any household. It requires us to be more responsible, and decisions usually have to be made around their needs. Long gone are the days and nights out on a whim – inevitably your dog will need a toilet break and/or some company (if this is the case… give us a shout and we’ll get you in touch with some wonderful dogsitters!). They also need consistent exercise, training, grooming and feeding – which is the perfect time to start teaching our kids some age-appropriate responsibility. Giving our children tasks such as re-filling the dog’s water bowl when empty, filling the food bowl with the correct amount of food at their set meal times, accompanying you on walks with your dog and even taking them along to training classes will set a level of respect and create a strong bond between yourself and your child, and your child and your dog.
After keeping a routine for a while, you may find that your kids start completing their new “jobs” without prompting and enjoy taking care of their best friend with a sense of pride, and ownership, of being trusted to look after an important family member! Ultimately, the welfare and care-taking of our dogs is down to the adults of the household, but including the little people can help create a sense of empathy and respect for living beings other than fellow humans – it takes a lot of commitment and consistency. The appreciation your child will receive in cuddles, licks and tail wags will be a confidence booster that’s sure to stick with them for life.
8) Finally, let’s all be honest here… Dogs fill a gap we never knew needed filling
The biggest thing about dogs (and pets in general) is that they get you out of your own head. They need you, want you, and love you unconditionally, maybe even giving you a purpose when you don’t feel like you have one that day. Whilst doing my own research for this blog, my heart was warmed at the response these dog owners that I have spoken to gave me about an unexplainable, priceless feeling of just pure, overwhelming good old fashioned LOVE. Even new studies have found that making eye contact with our dogs releases a rush of the “love hormone” oxytocin in both us and our pets, which makes perfect sense to me. Duke is my go-to. He’s very sensitive so picks up on very subtle changes in moods and can get quite anxious, so nothing soothes both of us more than sitting down and giving each other a good cuddle when I’m feeling a little off. I say cuddle, I provide all the tummy rubs and he uses me as a pillow – it works for us!
Once you have a pet dog, I think it’s fair to say almost all of us could never imagine our lives without them in it. We spend a lot of time teaching our dogs things, forgetting how much they actually teach us. Owning a dog requires us to be less selfish, a lot more patient and provide anything from 10-18 years of commitment to this furry creature. They also teach us to worry less about the fur on our clothes, slobber on our hands and muddy paw-prints decorating the floors!
And if you need any help finding a loving pet carer for your precious pup, you make a request below. It’s free and it only takes 30 seconds – let’s see who we can find for you.