The reason why dogs are referred to as (wo)man’s best friend is evident to anyone who has ever loved one in their life: They’re fiercely loyal, friendly, dependable, and will do anything without complaints (well, most of the time).
Dogs provide their owners with much more than companionship alone, though. Many are unaware of the powerful mental health benefits that accompany cuddling up or adventuring with their furry friend.
And don’t just take our word for it. Recent scientific research validates the positive correlation between dog ownership and emotional well-being. Here are some of the most significant ways dogs work their magic and boost your mood, during tough times and everyday life:
1. Help you meet new people. You’re almost always bound to run into other pups and owners when walking yours or taking a trip to the dog park. These moments are the perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone new — you already know you have at least one thing in common.
Maintaining a social network and making new friends can become especially difficult the older you get. More than one-third of Americans older than 65 live alone. Dogs give older adults an easy way to socialize and stay connected.
Connections like these, even if in they don’t seem like a big deal at the time, are actually important because they counteract social isolation. Those with more social interaction tend to be happier and healthier.
2. Relieve stress. Studies have shown that even briefly interacting with a dog reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Especially in the last year, which has been particularly stressful for most people, dogs have provided a sense of emotional support. 90% of pet owners say their animal has helped them cope emotionally with COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a new study from PLOS One.
3. Encourage you to get up and moving. We all have those days when we don’t want to leave couch. It’s hard to resist your dog’s puppy eyes when they want to go outside though. Taking your dog out for a walk, hike, or run are fun, rewarding ways to fit exercise into your daily routine. A recent study published in Scientific Reports indicates dog owners are about four times more likely than other people to meet today’s physical activity guidelines. The more exercise, the better…for both you and your dog. Physical activity bumps up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.
4. Reduce feelings of loneliness. Your dog is always there for you no matter what. They give you unconditional love without expecting anything in return, besides extra treats every now and then. A 2019 Australian study found that new dog owners reported feeling less lonely within just three months.
It’s no coincidence that dog adoptions skyrocketed in 2020. During a year of social-distancing and stay-at-home orders, people looked to pets to relieve feelings of loneliness due to being confined to their house or apartment.
5. Give you a sense of purpose. Regardless of how you feel when you wake up in the morning, your dog relies on you to take care of them. The amount of effort required for caring for your dog every day — making sure they’re well-fed, have gotten enough exercise, happy, and healthy — forces you to be responsible and makes you feel needed and wanted. This feeling of self-worth goes hand-in-hand with a higher self-esteem.
A trusting best friend who’s fun to be around and has the ability to effortlessly make you feel better? Dogs really do it all for us.