3 Surprising Ways Dogs Make Your Relationships Better
... especially if you're a man.
Posted June 27, 2016
It's no wonder that dogs are man's best friend. Although we've been co-evolving for only 15,000 years or so (hardly any time at all in evolutionary terms), our lives are deeply intertwined. Any dog lover will tell you that dogs improve the quality of human life; research backs this up. The ability dogs have to make us feel less alone and to reduce our stress has been well-documented. Their kisses can boost the health of the human immune system because their saliva is thought to contain “good" bacteria. Studies have shown that dogs can even sniff out serious health conditions, such as diabetes and cancer. But there are other ways these cuddliest of companions bring joy to our lives—specifically, to our relationships with other people. Here are just three:
1. A dog can help you get a date (if you're a guy).
Research reveals that people find dog ownership attractive, and this tends to be more true for women than for men. A recent study surveyed 1,210 individuals looking for love online who had registered with Match.com. The researchers found that women in this group were more sensitive to how men interact with their pets, via their profiles, than the converse. This supports the idea that women see the way a man treats his dog as an indicator of what kind of caregiver he will make, whether he's worth dating, and if he might be a good long-term partner. It's important to note that dogs act as better “social barometers” in the dating world than cats, perhaps because canines are more social than felines and require more care.
2. Dogs make people nicer.
Studies suggest that dogs can encourage humans to socially interact with each other—and in more positive ways. For example, one study comprising four experiments sought to test whether the presence of a dog can promote closer relationships between humans. In the first experiment, a male confederate (an undercover researcher) asked people for money on the street. In the second experiment, a female confederate did the same. The third experiment had a male confederate drop coins on the ground to see if anyone would help him pick them up. And in the fourth experiment, a male confederate asked young women on the street for their phone number.
The twist in each of these situations: The confederate was sometimes accompanied by a dog and sometimes alone. This allowed the investigators to compare whether the presence of a dog influenced human behavior. The researchers found that people tended to be more helpful in the first three experiments when a dog was present—and the male confederate was more successful at getting women's phone numbers when he had a dog with him.
3. Dogs can improve your relationship.
Couples that have pets (yes, cats or dogs) are more likely to be happy in their relationship than those without one, and they're less stressed. Consider research which revealed that couples that have a pet show lower stress levels when dealing with conflict, compared to couples that do not have pets. In a study of 100 couples, in which 50 had pets and 50 did not, it was found that the couples with pets had lower blood pressure on average. Moreover, in stressful situations, blood pressure rose less and returned to normal more quickly for people with pets as opposed to those without. And couples with pets interact with each other more than non-pet owners. Social interaction is good for your health, and it may be that people who have pets are more likely to be social—or that pets provide much the same benefits as human social interaction.
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Vinita Mehta, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., and an expert on relationships, managing anxiety and stress, and building health and resilience. She provides speaking engagements for your organization and psychotherapy for adults. She has successfully worked with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, and life transitions, with a growing specialization in recovery from trauma and abuse. She is also the author of the forthcoming book, Paleo Love: How Our Stone Age Bodies Complicate Modern Relationships.
- Research presented by Karen Allen, Ph.D. at the American Psychosomatic Society, March 12, 1998.
- Gray, Peter B., Shelly L. Volsche, Shelly L., Garcia, Justin R. and Fisher, Helen E. (2015). The Roles of Pet Dogs and. Cats in Human Courtship and Dating. Anthrozoos.
- Guégen, Nicolas and Cicotti, Serge. (2008). Domestic Dogs as Facilitators in Social Interaction: An Evaluation of Helping and Courtship Behaviors. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 21(4).