Pet two dogs, and call us in the morning

In honor of World Health Day today, we thought we’d take a look at some of the ways in which dogs improve the health of the humans around them.

Dog lovers everywhere know that even a brief interaction with a friendly dog improves mood.  Sometimes, all it takes is looking at photos of dogs being adorable to improve our state of mind.  Otherwise, why would there be so many dogs with Instagram accounts?

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Their ability to help us goes deeper than cheering us up, though.

It’s no surprise that owning a dog makes us more likely to get in our 30 minutes of daily exercise when taking our furry friends for their daily walks. Even if you have a yard, walks are beneficial to you and your dog, reinforcing your dog’s feeling of moving with its pack (you!), and giving you both a chance to bond through movement and shared destination.

Studies have even found that dog owners who suffered heart attacks are more likely to be alive a year later than non-dog owners, regardless of severity of the heart attack!  We don’t know why this is, but as dog owners, we’re not going to complain.

Maybe it has to do with the reduction in the stress hormone, cortisol, that results when interacting with our dogs, and the rush of feel-good hormone oxytocin that happens in both the dog and human when we touch.  It’s very similar to our body’s reaction to holding an infant.

A recent study found that the mere presence of a dog in the workplace reduced stress and increased productivity, even in workers who did not directly interact with the dog.

12,000 years of shared history ain’t chopped liver!

Speaking of shared history, even husbands and wives who owned a dog showed reduced markers of stress and shortened recovery time from stress in the presence of the dog than in the presence of their spouse.  Kids, too, went to their pets for stress relief, reporting that when they needed someone to talk to, their top choice was frequently the family pet.

Children on the Autism Spectrum often find it easier to interact with, and relate to, animals than humans.  Animals give children another way to develop empathy and understand how to interact socially with others.

Animals even improve the social abilities of adults, bridging the gap between strangers and making that first interaction easier.

In fact, that’s one of Fruit Bat’s jobs.  She’s trained to be friendly with strangers when she’s walking on the ground, and her friendly confidence takes the pressure and focus off of her handler with severe social anxiety.  That task alone makes the difference between enjoying a day out at a theme park or convention and dreading every second away from home.

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A well-adjusted friendly dog seldom meets a stranger.

The clear health benefits of dogs and humans together is being tested in settings from work to hospitals to educational settings with positive results all around.  Dogs make it easier for children with ADHD, Autism, and other cognitive disorders to focus.  Dogs reduce stress. Dogs increase our sense of safety and security.

And we do the same for our dogs by providing them with a place to belong and a pack to be a part of.

It’s looking increasingly likely that “pet a dog” is right up there with “an apple a day,” and we’re thrilled about that.

  • Read more about the NIH report on Dogs and our health here.
  • Read more about keeping your pet healthy, too, on NIH’s MedlinePlus.

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