By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
If I could bottle and distribute all the benefits that come from dog ownership, I’d be the most popular doc on the planet. That’s because science has clearly shown that sharing your life with a dog is good for your body, mind, and soul. A dog can lick your face—as well as help you lick a long list of chronic ailments. In a nutshell, dogs are awesome!
Here are 19 human reasons why dogs are the best (that’s 133 dog reasons):
1. Dogs Dig Walking.
As a cardiologist, I love anything that encourages folks to walk on a regular basis. And I’ve never met a dog that doesn’t want or need to be walked daily. Not coincidentally, research has shown that dog owners walk 22 minutes more a day than people without dogs. All those extra daily steps you take while walking your dog can make a real difference in your health and well-being.
2. Your Pup Protects Your Heart.
Just like your dog will protect his favorite toy or his food bowl, he will also protect your heart. Dog ownership has been found to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce your risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death because dogs encourage us to engage in more outdoor activities, keep us more active throughout the day, and prevent us from being lonely.
3. Petting Your Pooch Boosts Immunity.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is one of the most common antibodies in the body. Higher levels of IgA indicate a robust immune system that can help you fight off illnesses. As it turns out, simply petting a dog raises the level of IgA in your saliva.
4. Rex Helps You Relax.
Interacting with a dog can increase the amount of oxytocin in your body. Oxytocin plays a key role in relaxation and feelings of well-being. So, after a stressful day at work or when you need some relief from the pressures of caring for a loved one, playing with your dog is a fun and natural way to unwind.
5. Canine Companions Calm the Mind.
A dog’s ever-present love can be a calming, reassuring factor in anyone’s life. And particularly for those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression, there is a wealth of evidence suggesting that service dogs or therapy dogs can dramatically improve mental health, enhance sleep quality, and boost feelings of social well-being.
6. Fluffy Will Find You Friends—Or Get You a Date…
I have a colleague who owns three Beagles. When she moved to a different city, she says she got to know practically all of her neighbors while on her daily dog walks. Owning a pet makes you seem more social, which can encourage others to stop and strike up a conversation with you. And listen up, single guys: Women are more willing to give their phone numbers to men with dogs.
7. …But Fido Can ALSO Make You Feel Safe.
I’ve talked to a lot of women, and even some men, who don’t want to walk or jog outside alone, because they’re worried about their safety. A big dog can be a great deterrent to those who want to harass you.
8. Your Dog Helps You Follow Doctor’s Orders.
This one’s great news for me and other doctors—as well as for all dog owners. A study from the American Humane Association shows that dogs motivate children fighting cancer to follow their doctor’s instructions. While this particular study focuses on kids, the concept likely applies to adults as well.
9. Dogs Are Better Than Pain Meds.
As opioid addiction becomes an increasingly serious problem, it’s vital that doctors find alternative ways for patients to handle pain. One study has shown that people who’ve undergone total joint replacement surgery needed 28 percent less pain medication when they had contact with therapy dogs.
10. Hounds Keep You Hopping.
Because dogs are, by nature, creatures of habit, they love a good routine. They like to get up early in the morning, rain or shine. They often demand food at certain times of the day. And, of course, dogs need to go outside to do their business early and often. Living with a dog will encourage you to follow a regular schedule as well, which improves and enhances your health.
11. Dogs Are Happy to Help Everyone.
Giving to others through volunteerism is an important way to connect yourself to your community. Volunteering your time to an important cause also boosts self-esteem and instills a sense of purpose. If you get your pet trained as a therapy dog you can both volunteer at hospitals, schools, prisons, and other places where people might need emotional support. In the process of helping others, you’ll also help yourself.
12. See Spot, Then Smile.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s nearly impossible to watch a happy dog at play and not break into a smile. Since smiling offers both psychological and physical benefits, from improving your mood to lowering your heart rate, living with a funny furry friend allows you ample opportunity to turn your frown upside down.
13. No One Hates Dogs—Except Burglars.
Home security experts, as well as former burglars themselves, will tell you that the best way to protect your home is with a dog. And it’s not because dogs can bite. It’s because they can bark, alerting you to the fact that someone is invading their territory. So, you don’t need to adopt a giant guard dog to feel more secure in your home. In most cases, it simply takes a barking dog (even a wee little one) to scare off intruders.
14. Trained Dogs Can Do Just About Anything for You!
Most dogs are quite trainable and actually like the training process, since it gives them purpose. The range of tasks that a dog can learn to perform for you is truly amazing. Want your dog to fetch you a drink from the fridge? Once properly trained, your bulldog can become your butler! Although it requires specialized training, some dogs can even be used for screening people for lung, bowel, and ovarian cancer.
15. Kids Grow Up Healthier with a Dog Around.
Just about every kid wants a dog to love. In return, dogs can actually boost kids’ health, especially if dogs are introduced to the home when children are young. Kids who are at risk of developing eczema have been shown to have a reduced risk if they have a dog living with them. In addition, children at risk of developing allergies and asthma also face a reduced risk when their household includes a dog while they are infants. That means having a family dog can make your whole family healthier and happier.
16. Dogs Bring Out the Adult in You.
As great as dogs are, they can’t take care of themselves. In exchange for their unwavering loyalty, dogs need us to be responsible for them and patient with them. Learning how to exercise responsibility and patience for your dog—and throughout the rest of your life—pays huge dividends personally and professionally.
17. You’re Never Alone with a Dog.
Loneliness can be downright debilitating. It can actually cause your brain to go haywire. Enough social isolation can even make you hallucinate and imagine that you see ghosts! Luckily, a dog is a constant companion—morning, noon, and night. Even when your friends don’t have time for a visit, your dog always has time for you.
18. Watch Rover Roll Over—And Other Fun Stuff.
I’ve always found it much more enjoyable to watch my dogs play in the backyard than to sit in front of the TV. Dogs’ enthusiasm for life is aspirational, and their energy is contagious. It’s even more fun when you also get involved in a game of fetch or tug-of-war.
19. There Is a Reason Dogs Are Called Man’s Best Friend.
Perhaps I’ve saved the best for last: Dogs epitomize unconditional love. On a daily basis, dogs will prove their steadfast devotion by greeting you as if you just returned from battle even though you only went to the grocery store or refusing to leave your side when you come down with a cold. Then there’s even one dog who traveled 2,800 miles to reunite with its beloved family.
When you have that kind of love walking at your side or resting at your feet, life is awesome and anything is possible!
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