Walk down any residential street in the early hours and you’ll find one unescapable fact: Dogs are popular pets. In fact, a recent study estimates that three million households have at least one canine member of the family.
If your family is one of these households, your dog is giving you some surprising benefits. Researchers such as Dr. Bradley Smith have found that having a pet can significantly improve your quality of life.
You already know how good a friend your dog can be. What you might not have noticed is how much more you talk to other people when you’re out with your dog. You’re simply more likely to interact with other humans when your dog is with you than when you are out for a walk by yourself.
Having a dog also increases the chances you’ll go for walks and play in the park. It’s harder to skip your morning run when your exercise partner is bouncing excitedly at the door with his leash in his mouth. How can you tell him you want to skip walkies today?
Evidence is starting to show that children with dogs have a 50% lower chance of being overweight, as compared with those without. With all the running and walking involved in playing with the family dog, even in the house, maybe this isn’t so surprising after all.
You might have noticed that families are smaller these days. Most people feel a need to nurture that used to be fulfilled by raising a baby or helping to take care of smaller siblings. For people without children and children in small families dogs are increasingly fulfilling the role of substitute child or sibling. The dog gives them someone to care for and nurture with all the positive physical and mental benefits that come with doing so.
Perhaps the practice in nurturing is the reason behind the observation that kids with dogs tend to be more empathetic than other kids, all else being equal. They also tend to be more popular with their schoolmates and have healthy self-esteem. These are all good things for a child’s emotional and social development, whatever the connection with their canine friend might be.
Dog-owners tend to interact with other dog-owners in their neighbourhoods. This is true of most groups of people brought together by a common interest, but dog-owners might well meet up several times a day, by chance or design, during walks and playtime at the park. This frequent interaction strengthens the entire community.
Some children read to their dogs. These kids often have higher reading levels than those children who don’t. It’s great for the child and the dog: the dog gets attention and the child gets reading practice. Playing “teacher” with a canine pupil is fun, anyway.
Some researchers have noticed that pet-owners tend to have shorter stays in the hospital, fewer visits to the doctor’s office, and lower levels of stress overall. Having a pet might also lower your risk of heart disease, by possibly as much as 4%. If this turns out to be true over the long term, that would be a benefit similar to going on a low-salt diet.
Many of the studies looking into the benefits of pet ownership took into account differences of wealth and social standing. As a result, the benefits of dog ownership are believed to be connected to the pet directly, and not just linked to having the money and leisure to be able to afford a dog.
It’s good to know that having a dog is good for you. However, it is not a wise plan to purchase a pet with only these benefits in mind. Remember that the pooch is a living creature with its own physical and emotional needs.