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4 Great Benefits of Owning a Dog

Written by S.O.

Posted on April 27, 2015 at 3:59 pm

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Dogs and humans have been together for quite a long time.

Though the exact timeframe is still under dispute – the nuclear DNA evidence indicates it happened between 16,000-11,000 years ago, while mitochondrial DNA evidence pushes back that date from about 32,000-18,000 years ago – humans and canines certainly have a relationship that predates writing, culture, and the agricultural revolution.

Almost from the beginning, humans have looked at dogs as partners – in hunting, in child rearing, in just plain surviving. In turn, dogs have looked at us providers and protectors. Both species have benefitted from each other to such an extent that now the two seem almost inseparable.

A newly released study published in the journal Science gives some clue as to how this relationship first arouse. Titled ‘Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds’, the study found that human/dog interactions, using certain forms of communication not found in other canines (such as sharing mutual eye gazes), stimulates the release of oxytocin, the ‘social contact/love’ hormone most commonly associated with helping mothers bond with their newborn children. In turn, because dogs have the ability to return the human glare, researchers found that both dogs and humans experience increased oxytocin levels during and after sharing gazes. Essentially, some researchers have concluded the dogs have found a way to ‘highjack’ the parent-child bonding mechanism (see Duke University’s Evan MacLean and Brian Hare’s essay ‘Dogs hijack the human bonding pathway’)

This goes a long way toward understanding why humans and dogs are still so closely connected. We’ve literally changed each other for the better.

Let’s look at some of the ways dogs are good for humans.

Benefits to Kids

My brother and our dog, Holy

Photo by Kitti

We’ve all seen the way most children respond to dogs. Whether it’s with a loving embrace or a call to ‘go fetch that stick,’ kids and dogs seem to share many of the same kinds of thoughts and motivations.

But, dogs affect humans, particularly children, at a much deeper level. For instance, researchers have found that people who live in homes with dogs get sick less than those without dogs. Further, children with dogs are less likely to develop allergies. In fact, several studies have confirmed that even if a mother lives with a dog prior to giving birth, that child is less likely to be bothered by pet dander or to develop eczema as an adult.

Socially, dogs impart on children some very important lessons about closeness and intimacy, loyalty, and feelings of positive self-worth. A child’s sense of security can be improved with a pet, and dogs can help ease a child’s separation anxiety and stress, particularly in homes where parental stability may be lacking. Kids with dogs experience less clinical depression, and dogs can aid children in dealing with the grieving process.

At the very least, dogs can help children learn what it takes to be responsible for other living things. The duties that go along with having pets – feeding, cleaning, walking, and tending to when injured, among many others – give children an early glimpse at the child and eldercare duties they may be responsible for later in life.

Benefits to children with special needs

Children with special needs may be particularly helped with the inclusion of a family pet. For instance, many autistic kids struggle to communicate. Dogs, with their abundantly clear signals of happiness and sadness, help those children learn cues necessary to navigate the human world. Children with clinical levels of anxiety learn to regulate those feelings; research shows the pets help lower anxiety in all of us, primary by raising in humans our dopamine and serotonin levels, chemicals most associated with feelings of pleasure and calmness.

Often, the result of these feelings of calm and balance help children deal with, and often overcome, feelings of frustration that routinely arise when performing difficult tasks.

Benefits to the elderly

Kids with special needs aren’t the only people with particular medical issues who can benefit from the presence of a dog.

Researchers have found that pets help the elderly in several areas. Although the elderly often suffer from crippling loneliness, pets have been found to greatly assuage those feelings. Studies at St. Louis University and the University of Miami have concluded that pet ownership often matches those of an actual human relationship. Further, while younger people can be repelled by the toll the aging process can take on an elderly loved one, dogs have no such compunctions; dogs love their owners no matter their physical condition.

On top of that, pets tend to help the elderly stay active simply in the course of the pet’s care. Going for walks, keeping a dog groomed, and keeping up on its shots and medical care not only keeps elderly dog owners busy and active, it tends to help people create meaning in their lives. Obviously, that is very beneficial for shut-ins and those seniors whom have lost their human support systems.

It should be noted that dog owners age 65-and-over make 30-percent fewer visits to the doctor’s office.

General health benefits

Photo by Nicholas Wang
Besides all of the emotional and psychological benefits of dog ownership, canines also offer a variety of physical, tangible benefits for human health.

Dogs have been demonstrated to be able to smell cancer present in the human body, and some dogs can be trained to detect cancer in humans in as little as three hours.
Some dogs also can sense seizures in their owners. So-called ‘seizure-alert’ or ‘seizure-response’ dogs have the ability to detect oncoming seizures as much as 45 minutes before a seizure actually occurs. Moreover, by sensing behavioral cues, some dogs even have the ability to alert their diabetic owners that the owner’s blood sugar is beginning to drop, helping to avoid hypoglycemia.

In general, dogs help humans have lower heart rates and lower blood pressure; they help us sleep more soundly at night; and dog owners have slightly lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels than non-pet owners.

And, because they keep us active, dogs have been shown to increase their owner’s odds of surviving a heart attack – pet owners have a five-times higher chance of living following a cardiatric emergency.

While no one is saying dog ownership is without its drawbacks, all things being equal, most people would be much better off if they had a dog – for companionship, to provide meaning, to have a living thing in which to pour into our compassion and intentions. Is there a species on this planet more appreciative than canines to receive that affection?

Let’s remember, dogs and humans are unalterably linked – by history, by habit, and by sure love of playing fetch.

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