Humorist Josh Billings famously said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself,” and any dog owner would surely agree.
While our canine cronies provide endless fun photo ops, the best news is that having a dog can substantially improve our mental and physical health.
“Owning a dog encourages socialization with other pet owners, promotes outdoor exercise and offers a range of health benefits that happen simply from having positive interactions with your pet,” says Dr. Brian Miller, a psychiatrist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
“Dogs are genuinely happy to see you, don’t criticize or question, and just want to shower you with enthusiasm,” Dr. Miller says.
Who doesn’t want that?
The benefits of dogs aid the young and old, families and singles alike, who all have much to gain from a little puppy love.
Relieve stress and anxiety
Petting a dog typically slows one’s heart rate, and the long-term effects are significant and real.
“Having the calming presence of a dog around can improve control of diabetes and other cardiovascular risk factors,” says Dr. Miller. A demanding job or unexpected life event can lead to increased cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. Coming home to a wagging tail who just wants to chase a tennis ball can be as therapeutic to you as it is fun for your dog.
A family’s pet project
When the time is right and everyone is on board, the addition of a family dog is a way to rally around a common cause. “Dividing responsibilities and learning how to nurture together can be a catalyst to improved family time and decision-making,” says Dr. Miller. Additionally, dog parks, dog beaches and just walking around the neighborhood provide easy — and free — genuine family time. You’ll just have to toss a coin to decide who carries the bags.
You’ve got a friend
There’s nothing wrong with being alone, but loneliness is different. Particularly for seniors, dogs can fill a void left by a loved one, or the challenges of being less mobile or housebound.
“For people who may be isolated, dogs help to create a lively atmosphere and a reason to get up in the morning,” says Dr. Miller. “It’s not uncommon to interact with dogs verbally, and even though they can’t talk back, their nonverbal responses can make people feel as if they’re really having a conversation. That’s a good thing for someone who is lonely.”
At Sharp HealthCare, we see it daily. Certified therapy dogs are on hand to visit patients and boost morale. For employees, Sharp partners with the San Diego Humane Society to bring adoptable dogs to mingle with staff on break during the much-loved “Walk-A-Pup” sessions.
Whether at home, at work or as a patient in the hospital, the effects of dogs on our well-being are undisputed. Dr. Gary Weitzman, DVM, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, can attest.
“The feedback we get from adopters is always full of deep adoration for the ways their new family member has improved their lives,” says Dr. Weitzman. “Many studies have shown that dogs and pets in general have numerous benefits to a person’s overall health and well-being. They make it almost impossible to hold back a smile and, in that way, they make such an impact on our emotional health.”
Inspired to take your dog out to play? Search our list of local dog parks for a spot near you.