Woof Your Way to Well-Being
Researchers find that spending time with a dog can increase your happiness.
Posted Dec 13, 2016
This post was co-authored with Julia Johnston of James Madison University.
Dogs can be a source of de-stressing and relaxation. The company of a furry companion is invaluable. Why can a simple task like walking, petting, or brushing dogs make one feel happier and more content?
I consulted the research literature to find out. One recent study evaluates participants’ self-reported benefits from being around dogs for just small periods of time. Authors Binfet and Passmore (2016) studied homesick and unsatisfied students through an 8-week Animal Assisted Therapy Group, which allowed them to spend time with therapy dogs for thirty minutes weekly for the eight-week period. They found participants reported less homesickness and a greater increase in satisfaction with life in comparison to the wait-listed control group.
Students interacting with dogs reported less homesickness and higher well-being for three reasons.
1. Reported lower levels of negative feelings:
Everyone can relate to negative emotions, whether it is homesickness, anxiety, or sadness. Participants reported that time spent with the dogs decreased their negative feelings. So, if you're feeling low, go spend time with a dog.
2. Satisfaction with life:
Why not pet a dog regularly if it can increase your well-being? You don’t even have to own a dog to reap the benefits of these furry companions. You can visit shelter dogs and not experience any financial burden.
3. Social connectedness:
No matter where you are, there is bound to be a dog around! The study discussed here focused on a college campus, but how many dogs have you stopped to pet, which then sparked a conversation with a stranger? Finding common ground for conversation with others is easy when there is a cute dog around. Binfet and Passmore (2016) refer to dogs as “social lubricants” for this very reason.
Our furry friends, whether our own or not, benefit us in a variety of ways. Petting a dog may decrease feelings similar to homesickness, may increase your satisfaction with life, and can help you to feel more connected to others. Other benefits include “reduction of blood pressure, lower risk of allergies and asthma in children, reduced stress and depression” (Gee et al., 2016, p. 217).
If you are looking for a regular encounter with a dog but you don’t own one, look for your local rescue shelters! Shelters regularly need volunteers to give love, care, attention, and walks to their dogs. No commitment, but all the benefits.
Binfet, J. T., & Passmore, H. A. (2016). Hounds and homesickness: The effects of an animal-assisted therapeutic intervention for first-year university students. Anthrozoös 29 (3), 441-454.
Gee, N. R., Hurley, K. J., & Rawlings, J. M. (2016). From the dog's perspective: Welfare implications of HAI research and practice. http://psycnet.apa.org/books/14856/013