Why Do Dogs Make You Feel Better

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You come home from a particularly rough day and you are tired, stressed out, and feeling a bit lonely. When you walk in the door, your BFF (best furry friend) is anxiously awaiting your arrival with a beloved toy in his mouth and you know he needs your attention. You walk him and feed him and then he comes in for a snuggle. During the walk you began to feel a bit better, and as you pet him you realize that your stress has decreased and you are a bit more lighthearted. Any pet owner will tell you that a dog makes you feel better, and there are even studies to back up this claim. Dogs are not only used as aids to people with disabilities and in military and police work, they also serve as therapy dogs in schools, hospitals and court rooms. Dogs can be a lot of work, but they offer so many more benefits to your health and happiness that it makes it all worth it in the end.

The Root of the Behavior

In the mid-1970s, Elaine Smith, RN began noticing that her patients showed improvement when the local pastor would visit and bring his Golden Retriever. She found that when she brought dogs to patients, the patients had stress relief, reduced blood pressure, they could overcome psychological disorders and their spirits were raised. More than thirty years ago, the National Institute of Health (NIH) started recommending scientists look into the human/pet connection and has provided funding for a number of studies that looked into how dog ownership can impact your life. Research has shown that spending just 15-30 minutes with your dog can lower cortisol levels (stress) and increase oxytocin (bonding) and dopamine (happiness). Studies have also shown that just petting and talking to your dog can lower your blood pressure, thus decreasing your risk of cardiovascular health problems. Dog owners are reported to recover from heart attacks twice as fast as non-dog owners. Because you are the one responsible for playing with and walking your dog, as a dog owner you tend to be more active and thus are healthier than your non-dog owning peers.

Having a pet helps you emotionally in that you are never alone and he is an automatic conversation starter when you are out and about. For those that physically live alone, whether by choice or circumstance, depression levels can rise due to loneliness. Having another living being in your home, which relies on you to live, can give you a sense of purpose in life. Getting out to walk and play with your dog forces you to be out in society, and people will invariably approach you to talk to you about your dog. Studies have also shown that bringing your pet to work with you can lower your stress levels and increase your productivity simply because you have something to care about that can love you back. College students who are suffering from homesickness to the point that they are not doing well show a marked improvement in grades and overall happiness when they are given the opportunity to spend time with a dog. Studies have shown that even mutual gazing into the eyes between owner and pet increases oxytocin levels, thus lowering stress and heart rate and making us feel happy.

Encouraging the Behavior

Your dog loves to be with you and he requires socialization and exercise. While caring for him can be a lot of work and an expense, the fact that he can literally benefit you physically and emotionally more than outweighs the benefits. Even married couples that have a human partner to love them are even happier when they own a dog versus married couples that do not have a dog. If you live a stressful like, having a pet at home can ease some of that negativity in your life. Make taking your dog out for walks and to play a priority just as you would to feed yourself and sleep. Starting early in your life with a dog will make it more of a routine and the longer you own a dog the greater the benefits. One NIH study that followed 2,500 adults in their early seventies to early eighties found that those with dogs had more stamina and speed than their non-dog owning peers. The dog owners got out more, walked longer periods of time, and were even more mobile within their homes. The extra time outside also increased their chances of raising their vitamin D levels that can help keep their bones strong and is essential in balancing emotions. Owning dogs can also help strengthen your immunity. Some studies suggest that children who are raised in a home with a dog are more protected from developing asthma and allergies as adults. The theory is that interacting with pet microbes while the immune system is developing strengthens the child’s overall immune system.

Other Solutions and Considerations

Some dogs, because of behavioral or health issues, can cause a lot of strain on a family. If your dog is elderly or suffers from physical problems that limit his ability to exercise and increase your stress, you may not see the benefits to your health as you once did. Losing a pet can also be as devastating as losing any family member or close friend and should be treated as delicately. If your dog is aggressive, anxious, or frequently destroys your belongings, he may increase your blood pressure more than being with him can decrease it. It is recommended to work with a trainer to get your dog’s negative behaviors in check so that both of you can be in a better place. Dog ownership is not for everyone, so if you have never had a pet, consider fostering first to see if the health benefits are for you and your family.


Studies have shown that spending time with your pet, whether talking to him, petting him, gazing into this eyes or holding him, increases your dopamine and oxytocin levels, which lowers your stress and increases your happiness. Getting proper exercise for your pet also means getting proper exercise for you, lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease, and decreasing recovery time from illness. The socialization that comes from owning a pet also increases your quality of life. Having pets as children can decrease immunity weaknesses and having a pet throughout your life can extend the mobility of your life as you age. If your dog is limited in his abilities, or his negative behaviors decrease your quality of life, seek support so that your relationship can be beneficial to you both. Having a dog makes you feel good.