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8 Emotional Benefits and 3 Liabilities of Having a Dog

The psychological side of dog ownership.

Marty Nemko
My doggie, Hachi
Source: Marty Nemko

Much has been written about whether to get, how to select, and how to train a dog. I’ve been guilty of adding to the clutter. Less has been written on the psychological effects of dog ownership.


Let’s get the obvious and most cited benefits out of the way. Especially if you’ve carefully picked your dog, you’ll get a lifetime of unconditional love, even if you occasionally come home a little late or, as I once did, accidentally stepped on my Hachi's (pictured) tail.

A number of studies have found that dog ownership reduces stress.

A nationwide survey found that 80 percent of pet owners say that their pet makes them feel less lonely.

If you adopt a dog from a shelter, you’ll always feel like you may have saved a life. Thus, your own life may feel more meaningful.

It is comforting for you (and your dog) to have a routine: for example, a wake-up hug, playtime, the dog’s excitement at mealtime, a good-night snuggle, and those walks with the dog. A British study found that dog owners are four times as likely to meet daily recommended exercise guidelines.

A dog is the ultimate listener. Look into those soulful eyes, and whether true or wishful thinking, you’ll feel love and acceptance, and you won’t get interrupted. Talking something out, especially under those circumstances, can be helpful, even cathartic.

A dog is a magnet for nice people. On my dog walks, I’ve had a number of pleasant conversations with strangers, sometimes a sweet doggie-meets-kid encounter.

A dog allows you to see unbridled joy. When you return home or show your dog a favorite toy, treat, or even regular mealtime, you get to see pure happiness.


Having a dog is a huge responsibility—s/he's a baby that never grows up, and that baby is likely yours for a decade or longer. In addition to the no-exceptions walking and feeding, there are the vet bills.

Dogs can be frustrating. For example, despite training and experts insisting that your dog wants to please you, you may call your dog, and s/he develops a temporary case of deafness.

And then there are the sadnesses: for example, when your naïve doggie gets sick and doesn’t understand why s/he feels bad, perhaps feeling s/he did something wrong. And of course, there’s the dying: Because dogs live a much shorter time than humans do, we’re likely to experience the surprisingly painful loss of losing our dog. Many people sheepishly admit that they grieved more for the loss of their dog than for a human.

The takeaway

Despite the enormous commitment, so many people, for time immemorial, have chosen to have a dog. Perhaps this post helps explain why.

I read this aloud on YouTube.