The Calming Powers of (Wo)Man’s Best Friend

As the famous 19thcentury American humorist Josh Billings once said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.” And this fact remains steadfast today. This animal has long carried the title of being “man’s best friend,” for a variety of reasons. Who would not want a “best friend,” with the assets a dog possesses? Loyalty, unconditional love, dependability—these are just a few of the many qualities.

Yet, while everyone agrees dogs are wonderful to be around, many do not realize a human’s overall health could improve by simply being around one. How can a dog help our well-being? Read on for a few of the many reasons on why being around a dog can help as much as a trip to a doctor.

Reason #1: Dogs can lower your blood pressure. Yes, this is a fact. According to the “News in Health” article, “The Power of Pets,” interacting with animals can lower levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone. Many believe that since having a dog requires one to walk or be physically active, this can aid in helping lower one’s cortisol. However, other students have found that cortisol may be lower in that “animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.”

Reason #2: Dogs require us to practice “mindfulness.” Dogs require us to focus on the present, the goal of someone seeking to be mindful. An ordinary required walk for dog owners is often when this “mindfulness” occurs. For the dog, the walk is the pinnacle of their day—for us it is a time to drop everything and go outside for some fresh air. When we commit this act, we are tapping into being more mindful. As we walk, all permeating worries are set aside. It is then that we begin to enjoy life in the present—the air, the birds, the trees, all of these come into our focus as we take in the moment.

Reason #3: Dogs remind us to be empathetic. There is a reason why service dogs are a popular aid in those suffering from a variety of social issues such as PTSD. It is true that dogs can literally feel the pain of their owner and do anything in their power to offer their own empathy. In the article, “How Dogs Drive Emotional Well-Being,” from Psychology Today, the author explores how war veterans often utilize service dogs to help with stress. For example, one Iraq war vet’s service dog, Arleigh, can sense that her owner is about to experience an anxiety attack.  “Once Arleigh senses her owner’s anger and anxiety building, she gives him a signal to start using mindful breathing and other tools to calm down until she senses his negative emotions have diminished.”

Reason #4: Dogs can help children dealing with mental or physical issues. Often children with ADHD, can greatly benefit from being around animals of all kinds—especially dogs. According to “The Power of Pets,” a study discovered that students with ADHD who read to a therapy dog for 30 minutes once a week, were able to focus their attention easier than another group of ADHD students who read to puppets that looked like dogs.

Reason #5: Dogs encourage socialization.Dog owners are required to go for walks. And during these walks, often owners will find themselves engaging in another conversation with a mutual dog owner. That is because dogs are pack animals at heart. Their daily walks are a prime time for them to connect with others of their kind. In the end, this promotes social activity for all—which is a good thing. In the article, “How Dogs Drive Emotional Well-being,” this is further explored. “In a study of more than 800 people over 50, those who walked a dog at least four times per week were more likely to report feeling a strong sense of community, compared to people who didn’t own a dog, lending itself to healthy aging.”


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