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10 Benefits of Having a Dog: Science-Based Facts

Gregory Iacono

By Gregory Iacono

man with chow chow dog in the park

Dogs have been known as our “best friends” for thousands of years, and anecdotal evidence has shown this adage to be true. Dogs give us devotion, affection, companionship, loyalty, and a good laugh now and again. Ask practically any dog owner, and they will readily agree that having a dog in their life makes it infinitely better.

However, the question is whether having a dog provides any scientifically measurable benefit for the owner. The answer, not surprisingly, is yes, according to scientific research. It seems dogs have an innate ability to improve many aspects of their owners’ lives. To discover what science has to say about the positive aspects of having a dog, we’ll discuss the 10 benefits our canine companions bring to the table below.

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The 10 Benefits of Having A Dog

1. Having a Dog Lowers Your Blood Pressure

According to a systematic review and analysis of studies published between 1950 and 2019, owning a dog lowers your blood pressure and decreases the risk of a cardiovascular event, including heart attacks and strokes1. The conclusion of the review, which looked at nearly 70 years’ worth of studies, was that owning a dog lowers your risk of death because it improves your lipid profile and lowers your sympathetic response to stress.

Owning a dog reduces your risk of mortality by 24% compared to people who don’t own a dog. Regarding your heart, the risk of a cardiovascular event is 31% less if you own a dog. Amazingly, the meta-analysis involved more than 3 million people.

akita dog with her owner on the couch
Image Credit: Viktoriia Hnatiuk, Shutterstock

2. Having a Dog Promotes a Healthy Lifestyle

This fact might not be surprising to many dog owners who take their dogs for walks every day, but scientific reports show that having a dog promotes a healthy lifestyle2. Indeed, this benefit makes the most sense to dog owners because walking is well-known to be a healthy activity. Many people also run, hike, bicycle, play frisbee, and engage in other recreational activities with their dogs, which further the health benefits of dog ownership.

3. Having a Dog Lowers a Child’s Risk of Allergic Sensitization, Asthma, and Other Allergies

Allergic sensitization is when the human body’s immune system responds to an allergen incorrectly and causes an allergic reaction. It’s also something that typically occurs when you’re an infant. Allergic sensitization is at the heart of many allergies, especially childhood asthma.

This study, however, found that exposure to two or more dogs during a child’s first year of life significantly reduces allergic sensitization3. In other words, having a dog in your home when your child is an infant can reduce their risk of developing asthma and other allergies later in life.

Image Credit: Ulza, Shutterstock

4. Having a Dog Helps Seniors Keep Up their Daily Living Activities

It’s long been held that having a dog around is excellent for senior citizens because of the companionship dogs provide. This 1-year study in Canada found that having a dog around helped seniors keep up with and slightly improve their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as cooking, cleaning, and communicating with family members4.

5. Having a Dog make You Feel Less Lonely

Loneliness is a problem for millions of people in the United States, with one report showing that nearly half of all American adults experience a measurable level of loneliness. This study from Australia, however, concluded that having a dog may reduce loneliness.

If you’re a dog owner, this might not surprise you because you know how nice it is to have your dog around. They provide companionship, unconditional love and, when you’re down or depressed, make you feel like you’re not alone.

golden retriever dog playing with his owner
Image Credit: Gorodenkoff, Shutterstock

6. Having a Dog Can Help You Recover from a Traumatic Event

Millions of people suffer traumatic events, from car accidents to robberies, physical assault, the violent death of a loved one, and many more. Military veterans suffer from traumatic events even more than the rest of us due to the horrors of war, and many suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study from Purdue University found that having a dog was incredibly beneficial to military veterans who have PTSD.

The study showed that veterans received the following benefits from having a dog:

  • Less anxiety
  • Fewer sleep disturbances
  • Lower risk of alcohol abuse
  • Fewer instances of Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR)
  • Significantly less PTSD symptom severity
  • Positive influence on both physiological and psychosocial wellbeing

7. Having a Dog Can Make You Happier

When we are happy, our brains release a hormone called oxytocin.  Oxytocin is sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” because it makes you feel relaxed and less stressed. The journal Science published a report in 2015 that concluded something quite amazing; staring into a dog’s eyes increases your body’s production of oxytocin.

The study found that looking into a dog’s eyes increased the production of oxytocin by a whopping 300%! In other words, those feelings of joy, happiness, and exhilaration you get when you look at, play with, cuddle, or hug your dog are a physical reaction in your body thanks to the cuddle hormone, oxytocin!

dalmatian dog and her owner playing outdoor
Image Credit: Stenko Vlad, Shutterstock

8. Having a Dog Helps Children Improve their Reading Skills

Many children have difficulty reading and reading aloud. This review found that if a child reads aloud to a dog, they feel more relaxed, and their reading level improves. It should be noted that the study looked at the effects of children reading out loud to a dog and its handler. Still, the conclusion was that reading to a dog improved a child’s attitude and reading skills, which is no small feat.

9. Having a Dog Lowers Your Stress Levels

We mentioned earlier that looking at and interacting with a dog increases the production of oxytocin in your body, which makes you feel happier and more relaxed. This article from Johns Hopkins Medicine takes that one step further and shows that petting a dog lowers your body’s production of cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress hormone.”

We also mentioned that having a dog was good for veterans who have PTSD. It’s been found that 84% of PTSD patients reported a significant reduction in their stress levels, and 40% of those patients reported being able to reduce their stress medications.

doberman pinscher dog sitting with owner on the living room floor
Image Credit: gemphoto, Shutterstock

10. Having a Dog Makes You More Attractive and Approachable

While dogs can’t change your physical appearance, evidence shows that having a dog makes you appear more attractive to others. Two studies seem to prove this point. Both concluded that when you’re with a dog, others judge you to be safer, happier, and more relaxed. Another series of 4 studies found that when you have a dog by your side, others will help you more readily or give in to your request for their phone number more easily.

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Final Thoughts

If you have a dog, the results and conclusions above might not have surprised you. As a dog owner, you already know how good your dog makes you feel. Now you have the scientific evidence to back it up! Dogs help us live longer, healthier, happier lives with less stress and more joy. Although you may have experienced less stress when interacting with your pet, it’s nice to know that research supports how amazing dogs can be and how much they can improve your life.

Featured Image Credit: Roman Zaiets, Shutterstock

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