What’s got four legs, a tail, a wet nose and can help you live a happier life in just 30 minutes? No joke – it’s a dog.
A survey of 1,000 dog owners found that they attributed a myriad of health benefits to their four-legged friends, from being more mindful (84%) and feeling less stressed (75%) since welcoming them into their life.
Similarly, 78% of UK dog owners saw an increase in their self-esteem since caring for a dog. A further 59% said that the confidence boost extended to the workplace, and that their motivation levels had increased (79%).
The data also revealed that benefits could be felt after just half an hour in a dogs’ presence, meaning a dog walk is more than just cardio, it gives an emotional boost, too.
Speaking to Women’s Health about Rover.com’s findings, behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings said: ‘Seeing the pleasure that a dog gets from us taking them for a walk, or even just from spending time with them, can increase our own sense of self-worth and self-esteem, which means that we feel more valued.
‘Dogs look towards their owners for guidance, and give you unconditional love in return. They suffer much more from separation anxiety than cats do and they need humans beyond just being fed, and walked. It’s really sad to see a dog left on its own for too long, because they really do get quite bad separation anxiety. They’re very loyal, and interacting with humans probably has the same sort of effect on their mood and their blood pressure.’
Anyone who has interacted with a dog knows that they live in the moment – something that many humans struggle to do – but also need a strict routine for their meals and exercise, which indirectly benefits their caregivers.
Jo added: ‘There are a lot of big positives, people being more mindful, less stressed, feeling more confident, higher self esteem, and high motivation levels.
‘The routine of walking a dog gives people a structure in their lives, and it’s a very social activity. We tend to meet the same people and see the same dogs on walks so that can make it easier to engage in conversation.
‘Plus, you’re outside and often in nature and there is so much research on how just getting out for 10 or 15 minutes a day has such a beneficial effect. It’s decreasing our cortisol, which is our stress hormone and it really helps to increase feel good hormones like oxytocin and serotonin. It’s great for psychological health.’
But what if you don’t have a dog? Sadly other pets don’t offer the same health benefits as they have less intense needs for supervised outdoor exercise, but there are ways to reap the benefits.
Jo said: ‘If you don’t have a dog to walk, it’s very easy to slip into a kind of lazy weekend mentality during the week as there is no obligation to get up off of the sofa and get walking. Thankfully, there’s now lots of opportunities to help look after the dogs of people who have had to go back to offices after lockdown, with lots of owners looking for walkers, sitters and pet companions.
‘And actually, it’s, it’s almost the best of both worlds as you get the benefits but none of the food and vet bills!’
Jo Hemmings, a behavioural and media psychologist, is working with Rover.com, the world’s largest online marketplace for loving pet care, to highlight the benefits that spending time with a dog can have on your everyday life.