It’s not news that dogs bring positivity into their owners’ lives. From companionship to comfort, dogs have fairly earned their title as “man’s best friend.” Physically, owning a dog is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Harvard Medical School notes several studies that have shown dog owners have significantly lower blood pressure levels than non-owners, and they have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This could be caused by the increased exercise dogs owners get or the calming effect dogs provide.
Studies have even found that blood pressure goes down, breathing becomes more regular, and muscle tension relaxes almost instantly when a person pets a dog. While all of these are physical signs of reduced stress, another study found that petting a dog creates changes in blood chemistry, reducing the amounts of stress-related hormones produced by a person’s body. These positive psychological effects work faster than most drugs taken for stress, occurring after five to 24 minutes of pleasantly interacting with a dog.
We could go on and on about the physical and mental health benefits that dogs provide their owners. What’s even more interesting is that the impact a dog makes on a person doesn’t stop there.
Having a dog lowers young children’s risk of developing asthma
A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics looked at the effects of introducing dogs early in a child’s life. In a study of preschool-age and school-age children, having a parent who was a registered dog owner during the first year of life was linked to a lower risk of asthma in school-age children. While the definitive reason for these results is unknown, researchers believe it has to do with the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that lack of exposure to germs during childhood could lead to more allergies and that exposure can lead to a stronger immune system.
Everyday heroes come in small sizes: Search-and-rescue, therapy, and guide dogs
Some dogs are specifically trained to help heal people who are going through therapy. Therapy dogs are trained and certified and considered a part of a patient’s mental health treatment team. Dog therapy is directed by a health professional and can help people improve their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functions. Dogs provide comfort during therapy sessions and encourage people to be more open. The American Psychiatric Association uses the example that therapy dogs often help encourage and facilitate social interaction for children with autism. Trained therapy dogs can help with an assortment of mental health conditions, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and PTSD.
Dogs can overcome many barriers that their owners cannot. Guide dogs are highly trained to be mobility aids to blind and visually impaired people, essentially being their owners’ new sense of sight. By helping with mobility, guide dogs provide freedom and independence, as well as companionship, to their owners. When it comes to facing traffic, crossing the street, and maneuvering through uneven walking surfaces, trained guide dogs are intelligent, alert, and always ready to assist. They are taught to judge spatial relationships, such as height and width, so that their owners do not bump into things or hit their heads. With guide dogs, blind and low-vision people can get around safely and confidently.
In the case of an emergency when someone goes missing, trained search-and-rescue dogs use their heightened smell and superior agility to work through obstacles that humans alone can’t. Search-and-rescue dogs are trained to find people lost in the wilderness, buried beneath avalanches, drowning, or trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building.