Adopting a Dog: To Friendship and Health

Have you found yourself looking up ways to become heathier? But then you think about having to actually exercise and instantly get tired just from the thought of it. I have recently been there myself. I get motivated to go running, or walking briskly.  It goes well for the first week where I am up early in the morning, getting my jog on. Then I slowly begin to become less motivated to go for even a night run, or just simply find something else to occupy my time.  Eventually, it becomes a hassle to exercise even one day a week.  A few months ago, I read online that my local shelter was overcrowded and was waiving adoption fees for dogs.  I began to research benefits of owning a dog and came across quite a bit of research on health benefits. I even found physiological benefits to having a dog. I quickly became excited at the thought of owning my own dog.  Of course, I would recommend researching the personalities that are associated with each breed and even taking a training course before adopting a canine. Or reading Get Healthy, Get a Dog which is a guide that helps you choose the best companion that suits your lifestyle. Remember that although dogs can be great motivators, they are not just a way to get healthier.  Adopting a dog is a long lasting commitment and must be willing to take on that responsibility.  But the benefits of the relationship between you and your canine are rewarding, both mentally and physically, for both you. Pets play a significant supportive role in reducing depression and loneliness and providing companionship.

Dogs are known to be “Man’s best friend.”  I read on Psychology Today where a psychologist named Alan Beck of Purdue University and a psychiatrist named Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania actually tested what happens physically to a person when they pet a friendly dog.  They found that the subjects blood pressure was lowered, heart rate had slowed, breathing was more regular and muscle tension relaxed.  They found that petting the dog caused reactions that were signs of reduced stressed.  A more recent study published in Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine confirmed the effects and showed reduced amounts of stress related hormones in the blood chemistry.  It was also noted that these effects worked within 5 to 24 minutes after the interaction of the dog, which is faster than most medicines taken for stress. Who would of thought that such a simple interaction with a friendly dog could cause so many positive effects.

Another study done in 1990 by Siegel reported that higher levels of attachment to one’s pet were associated with improved mental and physical health.  Siegel found that dogs provided their owners with companionship and a focus of emotional attachment more than any other pets. Dogs are more interactive with their humans. Dogs also tend to learn easier and faster than most other kinds of pets.  Research has even shown that there is a increase in oxytocin levels in the brain in both human and canine. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, increases when a strong bond is formed. The bonds that can be formed between canine and human can be almost as strong as the bond between parent and child, even some would argue as strong. Ask any dog owner. They consider their canine to be part of the family and a family member. Spending time with your dog increases your bond.  There are lots of ways to spend time with your dog but walking is most common.  Walking is a great way to not only bond, but to keep both of you healthy. Wanting to bond with your dog on a walk will inspire you to go for multiple walks that seem so much easier with your new walking buddy.  Bonding with your canine not only gives you a purpose but also keeps you motivated so you are more likely to keep exercising and staying healthy for your new family member and for yourself.  A study done by Ford, Ahluwalia and Galuska (2000) reported that social relationships have a beneficial effect on multiple behaviors that affected the risk of cardiovascular disease. Health benefits arise not only from exercising with a dog, but also from simply being in the presence of a dog.

I adopted a 2 year old Chihuahua Pomeranian mix about two months ago. He is the perfect addition to my family.  It has only been a few months, but we have bonded so well.  When I first brought him home, he was timid and did not even know how to sit on command.  Now he anticipates what I am going to say or do and is so excited to learn.  I love having him.  I am glad I made the decision to bring him home.  We also go walking everyday, at least twice a day. I am actually excited to go on our walks.  He loves the outdoor time and I love hanging out with my walking buddy.  He has motivated me to exercise and be more conscientious with my eating habits. We are the best of friends and will spend many years keeping each other healthy and cared for.  I do want to emphasize that adopting a dog, or any kind of pet, takes responsibility. While dogs are great motivators, they are living creatures that need caring for, just like a child.  I would recommend you consider adopting a dog from your local shelter but do it for the right reason, love and companionship.   Just imagine all the exciting adventures you and your new best friend will experience together if you adopt a dog.



Articles quoted from:

Psychology & Society, 2013, Vol. 5 (2), 6 – 23>

Siegel, J. M. (1990). Stressful life events and use of physician services among elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 1081-1086

Ford, E. S., Ahluwalia, I. B., & Galuska, D. A. (2000). Social relationships and cardiovascular disease risk factors: Findings from the third national health and nutrition examination survey. Preventive Medicine, 30, 83-92.

Mootoka, M., Koike, H., Yokohama, T., & Kennedy, N. L. (2006). Effect of dog walking on autonomic nervous activity in senior citizens. Medical Journal of Australia, 184, 60- 63.


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