Many dog owners are already aware of the joy their canine companion brings to them. But what makes this human-dog bond such a pleasure and so special? This question has stimulated a lot of discussion and research over recent years, and it turns out there are actually a lot of hidden benefits to owning a dog. We may not even be aware of some of these benefits! However, it has been established that dogs do help people who may be experiencing feelings of loneliness.
I would like to quote HelpGuide at this point, an organisation specialising in mental, emotional and social health. In one of their articles they state “Caring for a dog can help children grow up more secure and active or provide valuable companionship for older adults”. Why have I picked out this particular sentence? Well, I think it ties in nicely with limiting loneliness – a secure child is less likely to feel lonely, as is an adult that has companionship.
I want to focus on this companionship for a minute. And by the way, you don’t actually have to live on your own to feel lonely! For example, someone who feels lonely may live with others, but if they don’t feel they can talk about their feelings to these people, they may feel lonely. It’s quite a common symptom in today’s society that people end up bottling up their own feelings and not being able to talk openly to their family or friends. We do live in what seems to be a hurried society, and the busier the people are around you, the less likely you are to want to interrupt their day to talk about how you’re feeling. However, if you can take that first step to starting a conversation, you may very well find the other person is just as desperate for some quality time with you as you are with them!
But let’s focus on what happens if you are bottling your feelings up, and feeling lonely as a result. Chances are the more you have bottled up and stored in your mind, the more stressed and anxious you can feel. Many animals make good pets, and a pet can help but dogs specifically come into their own here. They can lower your stress levels, help you feel less anxious and ease feelings of loneliness. If we lump all of these things together, is it any wonder that they are found to ease depression as a result?
But why is this? What makes dogs so special when we’re feeling lonely?
It is the power of the human-dog bond that gives the dog super powers here. Their intelligence is such that they can read human emotions and feelings. They know when they are needed.
For example, if an owner feels sad it’s quite common for their dog to approach and put their head in the owner’s lap, or give a nudge into the palm of the hand with their nose. If you look into their eyes at this point, it’s not impossible to imagine they are thinking “It’s OK, I’m here”.
Having a dog can be a great reciprocal arrangement.
Your dog needs you for food, water, exercise, care and companionship. In return, your dog gives you unconditional love, and companionship in return. Yes, you guessed it, the word in common is companionship. The human and dog both rely on one another for this, and it makes both parties feel good about the relationship.
Having a dog, gives an owner purpose.
They rely on you for their basic needs, as well as love. There are cases where this alone is enough to help a person carry on, when they feel times are really tough in their personal lives. It’s very similar to adults sometimes feeling their lives are falling down around their ears, but their children help them keep going. These people can say their children are the reason they get up in the morning, and keep going, This purpose can help adults get through the darkest of times, until time helps ease whatever wounds they are feeling. Dogs can fulfill this same role. They depend on you, so are a good reason to keep going.
If we look at it from another perspective, a family dog may help children feel better during hard times they may be experiencing too. A dog may provide an avenue for them to talk out loud to, knowing there is no judgement or questions to answer, just a release of how they are feeling. This also works because dogs are great listeners!
OK, you may think we are getting a bit deep here, so let’s take a more superficial look at how dogs can help with loneliness.
Why getting out and about with a dog is good for you
Going on a walk with a dog can be a great socialiser, not just for your dog (although this is a very important part of their training and growing up), but for you too. You will meet people out walking, especially other dog owners. Over time you may strike up conversation with these people and even make some new friends. If you do happen to live alone, this human contact can also help ease loneliness and your dog has been the reason for going out and meeting these people.
Just being out in the fresh air can also act as an up lifter. Getting the blood pumping and exercising help release endorphins and make you feel better. These feelings can help a person to feel more positive about things. There are the physical benefits too! Better cardio vascular health and even blood pressure can be lowered as a result of regular walking with a dog.
Dogs can make you laugh
Yes, dogs are highly intelligent, but sometimes they do the darnedest things. It’s almost guaranteed that part of owning a dog will be laughing at them every so often. We all know laughter is a great medicine for the soul, and then there’s also the shared experience you’ve had with another physical being. The memory may be enough to make you laugh on more than one occasion too!
Dogs are great at Physical Contact
Let’s face it, it’s human nature to want some degree of physical contact – and I appreciate we are all different here! But having a dog, means there is a physical being living with you that you can cuddle or snuggle up with. Even if that’s too warm and fuzzy for you, having a dog lying at your feet is a remarkable soother. I know – I’ve been there! Dog’s are good at this exchange of emotion too – they will take their cues from you. if you are a snuggly and cuddly type, they may well burrow into you and lick your hand or face. If you are more reserved, they may just sit next to you and look at you, but they are still there with you, loving you as their owner!
If you are thinking of getting a dog for the first time, you may not be sure about what type of dog is right for you. There’s a bit more to think of than whether you just like the look of that particular breed. A good place to start, is by taking this Dog Breed Selector Quiz, which goes through a lot of the finer points – for example, the space where you live, and how much time you have for exercise etc.
If you would like to read more, I recommend this article from HelpGuide.org – Mood Boosting Power of Dogs