Dogs are four-legged forces for good. Now, there’s science to back up why adopting one can improve your life.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “dogs are man’s best friend.” As it turns out, when it comes to what dogs can do for us, “best friend” may not even be the half of it. Most dog lovers know that there’s no better feeling than being greeted at the end of a long day by a tail-wagging bundle of love. But when the pandemic hit, pet owners entered a new phase involving even more time with their furry companions — and 90 percent of pet parents say they want to keep up that increased quality time. While anecdotally, dog owners have a pretty good sense that dogs make life better, there’s actually quite a bit of research that supports how profoundly dog ownership and interaction can positively impact people at all stages of life. Here are just a few of the reasons why dog ownership can improve your days for the better.
Help strengthen immune systems in children
Dr. Carla Eatherington, a senior scientist specializing in Human-Animal Interaction research at Mars Incorporated’s Waltham Petcare Science Institute,, explains that dogs may provide an invaluable service to their human companions from day one. “Children who grow up with pets may see benefits in immunity. They have lower risk of developing asthma and other allergies, and get sick less often,” Eatherington explains. “Although evidence isn’t conclusive, this may be related to how much time the dog spends outside — it will pick up things and then bring them back into the house, which then challenges the child’s immune system and makes it stronger.” That said, she notes that parents should be mindful of a child’s potential dog allergies before committing to bringing one into the home.
May help neurodivergent children communicate
Interaction with dogs can be very beneficial for children living with neurodivergent conditions such as autism, for whom the intensity of human conversation can be overwhelming. “A dog doesn’t put any communication demands on a child, so they can practice social communication in a safe space,” Eatherington explains. This type of interaction can be monumental for children with intellectual differences, and can even help to mediate social interactions. “A dog can act as this little translator who a child can communicate with socially or emotionally without the intensity of having a human conversation, or even if the child is nonverbal,” says Eatherington.
Dogs may also offer a key to boosting one of the most important elements of a young person’s life: Self-esteem. “Adolescence can be really difficult, and there’s often a marked dip in self-esteem when kids reach middle school,” says Eatherington. “Having a pet can support them through that by creating a strong emotional connection to something that loves them without judgment.”
Combats loneliness for seniors
Of course, it’s not just kids who can benefit from dog ownership. Loneliness, particularly among older Americans, has been proven to be a predictor of a shorter lifespan. For seniors who may not have close friends or family who live nearby, owning a pet can quite literally be lifesaving. Says Eatherington, “Pets allow you to maintain your independence for longer, because they force you to be more active. They provide love and companionship, but also give you a reason to get up in the morning and get out of the house.” She notes that this isn’t just an impact for dog owners — owning a cat can significantly decrease depression and increase quality of life for seniors by giving them a sense of purpose. Dogs also have a notable calming effect, which over time can help lower blood pressure and risk of developing heart disease.
May help lessen impacts of depression
While pet ownership can improve signs of depression that are often intertwined with loneliness for seniors, pets can help to combat depression and anxiety for people of all ages. “Owning a pet helps you to maintain a routine,” says Eatherington. “There is literally a living thing that is depending on you. For those suffering from depression, owning a dog requires you to feed it at the same time each day. If you’ve developed a fear of leaving the house, you have to take it out for a walk, which will naturally put you in touch with other people around you. Even a social interaction as seemingly insignificant as saying ‘hello’ to someone while you’re out walking your dog can make a world of difference for someone battling extreme loneliness or depression.” Eatherington also points out that when a dog is staring up at you with unconditional love and is so happy to see you, it’s hard not to feel a positive impact.
All in all, for those prepared to take on the responsibility of pet ownership, there seem to be countless upsides to owning a dog. Since our dogs give us so much, they deserve the best from us in return, which is why we want to do all we can to make the world a better place for pets. If you’re considering adding a pet to your family, we urge you to adopt through your local shelter. And learn more about helping dogs in need — we’re confident you’ll get just as much out of the relationship as they will.