Without fail, whether I’m hiking a trail or running through the park, I see people exercising with their dogs. Fitness and furriness appear to go hand in hand, which has gotten me thinking about not only the psychological, but also the physiological benefits of owning a dog. Beyond the anecdotal evidence dog owners have provided, there have been numerous studies conducted on the many ways dogs make our lives better. From lowering stress to improving immune system functioning, research shows us that being a dog owner comes with more perks than just a daily dose of cuteness. Dogs are magical creatures that have been connected with lower anxiety, reduced blood pressure, better weight maintenance, and increased life expectancy. Research even suggests that spending some quality time with your pup during times of stress can be more helpful than spending time with friends or family. Dogs can also help owners with their social life by inspiring outings and playdates (they’re also pretty legendary date magnets). Basically, each and every day, your dog is kicking butt when it comes to improving the quality of your life. The least you can do is pick up his poop.
In various healthcare settings, the therapeutic value of dogs is becoming increasingly recognized and important. Pet therapy has been linked with faster and better recovery post-surgery, increased optimism, and reduced pain. The populations that therapy dogs serve range from elderly patients with Alzheimer’s to military veterans to autistic children (shout out to my dog, Ollie, who lends his adorableness to a comprehensive special needs school), thus making them an incredibly versatile type of medication. Turning to the very sexy topic of healthcare spending, studies in China, Australia, and Germany have found that pet owners have fewer and shorter hospital visits, use less sick days at work, and utilize free governmental health services less than the general population. The estimated savings in healthcare spending were in the billions, which means that dogs are not only helpful on an individual level but also on a societal level. Given the many upsides, I hope that the world of medicine continues to find creative and productive ways to incorporate pet therapy (maybe I’ll think of some :P).
There are countless stories of dogs doing ordinary and extraordinary things to greatly improve the lives of their owners. Whether they are performing life saving heroics or just snuggling with you as you study for midterms (Willie’s specialty), dogs are a gift. The bonds people share with their dogs are deep and meaningful, and I love seeing these bonds celebrated even in the simplest of ways. Sometimes all it takes to appreciate a great friend is scratch her ears and take her for a nice walk.