While owning a furry friend can be lots of work (and tons of fun), it’s a little-known fact that owning a dog can significantly enhance both your physical and mental health. And prospective dog owners can breathe easy, because there’s no need to spend a fortune on Fido; shelters across the country offer adoptable dogs in all shapes, sizes, and colors with counselors standing by to help you find the perfect companion.
Below, we’ll detail some of the positive effects of dog ownership and then offer some resources for adoption, whether you’re a first-time owner or looking to expand your canine pack.
Feeling Anxious? Pet a Dog!
According to experts, simply petting a dog can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as help you feel less anxious. Dog ownership has also been linked to weight loss in both humans and canines. Unsurprisingly, when either the owner or the dog participates in a formal weight loss program, the other sheds pounds as well!
A 2019 study found that pet owners eat a healthier diet and maintain better blood sugar levels than those without a pet. The same study found a correlation between owning a dog and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. People with dogs often live a healthier lifestyle than non-dog owners when they regularly walk and play with their dog.
From a mental health perspective, people who own a dog often feel less socially isolated, in part because of interacting with others on neighborhood walks and trips to the dog park. Many dog owners report feeling emotionally supported, and some studies have even found that canine ownership reduces suicidal ideation.
Dogs Benefit People of All Ages
In 2021, researchers investigated two dog-assisted mindfulness interventions. In the first, participants sat with their dog and listened to a recording focused on mindfulness, concentrating on one physical characteristic of their dog, such as its fur. In the second, owners interacted with their dog with undivided attention for at least seven minutes. Both studies resulted in greater feelings of happiness and relaxation during the events, as well as afterward, showing that dog ownership can foster a more relaxed, more mindful approach to life.
Owning a dog has wonderful benefits for families as well; children can practice responsibility while learning to feed, walk, and otherwise care for a pet. Dog ownership can also help kids become more empathetic.
With all of these benefits in mind, why wouldn’t you want a dog?
How to Find Your New Best Friend
Sure, you could purchase a dog from a breeder at significant expense, but consider the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) report that over 3.1 million dogs enter animal shelters each year, desperately in need of a home. Worried about whether you can afford a pet and vet bills? Financial assistance is often available.
If you’re not sure where to start on your adoption journey, check to see if your region has a chapter of the Humane Society. If you live in a more rural location, you can research potential pets using websites such as Petfinder, which gather biographies and photos of adoptable dogs around the country.
You’re Going to Adopt a Dog. Now What?
Before you adopt a dog from a shelter situation, you’ll be asked to meet with an adoption counselor who will ask whether you have any small children or other pets in the home. They may ask — especially if your chosen dog shows separation anxiety — whether someone will be home during the day. They may also check to make sure you have a fenced area for the dog so that it can go outside safely.
Before you bring your dog home, remove toxic substances, plants, and human food if they’re at pet level (remember, dogs can jump). Make sure you offer your new pet a dog bed and canine-safe toys and chews. Some animals will be grateful for a quiet, dark corner in which to curl up and observe their new surroundings.
Once your new family member has arrived, plan on three days of relative calm and quiet so that your pup feels safe and secure. You may choose to crate train your dog at night and while you’re away. You should also have your local veterinarian check over your dog for any possible health issues and to get baseline data on your pet. Within three weeks, your dog should feel settled into its new location; at this point, you might see some behavioral issues that can be addressed with training at home or professionally outside of your house.
Finally, do a little research and find your local fenced, off-leash dog park so that you and your friend can get some exercise out in the fresh air. Meet other owners there, or on a dog-friendly hiking trail, or at a dog-friendly pub. But if you must leave your dog at home, know that doggie daycares and boarding facilities abound.
Dog ownership is a thrilling adventure and a mutually beneficial relationship. It may not fix all your problems, but when you give a dog a loving home, you’re rewarded with increased physical and mental health and a loyal companion both at home and out in the world. As Charles Schulz once said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”