A Companion Dog Can Enrich Your Life

Dogs as social catalysts

In the latter part of the 20th Century, research suggested that dog ownership predicted better health and well-being. In particular, companion dogs seemed to function as social catalysts. In 2000, two British researchers conducted two experiments to clarify whether the social interactions depended on the attributes of the dog or the human handler or on the location of the interactions. Experiment 1 showed that being accompanied by a dog (even one trained to ignore other humans) fostered social interactions, especially with strangers. Experiment 2 showed that a dog trained to ignore humans elicited significantly more social interactions even with scruffily dressed dog handlers (compared to well-dressed handlers). Similar results occurred if the dog was scruffily attired. Both experiments were conducted in locations not necessarily associated with dog walking. Overall, these experiments suggested that companion dogs functioned as social catalysts for humans.

How dogs can benefit humans

Do the benefits of developing a network of supportive social relationships apply to pets? After all, it’s widely believed that pet ownership benefits humans. But does evidence support this view? The authors of a recent review concluded that, with some qualifications, pet ownership benefits humans. Dog owners are likely to engage in more physical activity, mainly through dog walking, than people who don’t own dogs. Evidence indicates that the companion dogs can reduce stress and bolster emotional states, leading to reduced autonomic nervous system activity, better cardiovascular function and lower blood pressure.

Dogs and humans walking

A review of 29 studies published between 1990 and 2010 examined the relationship between walking and dog ownership. The studies sampled adults from the US and Australia. Researchers found that about 60 percent of dog owners walked their dogs for a median duration of 160 minutes over four walks per week. Dog owners walked more than non-dog owners, although the effect sizes were small to moderate.

Dogs and objectively measured human physical activity

Studies show that dog ownership is associated with increased physical activity. Most such studies, however, employ self-reports of physical activity that are subject to recall and social desirability biases. A new study addressed methodological shortcomings of previous studies. The present study used pairs of dog owners and non-dog owners in the United Kingdom matched for nine sociodemographic criteria. Physical activity was measured with activPAL monitors worn for one-week periods during March – June, July – October, and November – February to adequately sample the entire year. Eighty-six participants aged 65 or older, white, and mostly female were recruited in three regions of Britain.

Researchers found that dog owners walked significantly longer and took more steps than non-dog owners. The differences translated into 23 more minutes and 2,762 more steps per day for the dog owners. Eighty-seven percent of the dog owners but only 47 percent of the non-dog owners met the recommended minimum weekly level of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity. Most dog owners walked the widely recommended 10,000 steps per day, while most non-dog owners did not. While the study was not designed to determine cause-and-effect, the results support the idea that dog ownership and, more specifically, dog walking can lead to meaningfully greater physical activity for older people.

Dogs may lower your risk of high blood pressure

In 2013, the American Heart Association issued a Scientific Statement that suggested dog ownership probably predicts lower cardiovascular risk. Studies show that pet (especially dog) ownership predicts increased physical activity, social support, and better outcomes after a cardiovascular event. Would pet ownership predict lower risk of cardiovascular disease for Americans generally? Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to find out. A subset of 10,905 participants who had either heart failure, or coronary artery disease, or hypertension, or diabetes, or stroke between 1999 and 2016 were queried about pet ownership. Pet owners exhibited healthier profiles than non-pet owners. The former had higher hemoglobin, lower LDL-cholesterol, and lower prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. After adjusting for potential confounders, owning either a dog or a cat predicted a lower 33 percent lower risk of high blood pressure compared to non-owners. Pet ownership did not predict heart failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, or stroke.

Dog owners live longer

Dog ownership is associated with improved health markers including lower blood pressure, better blood fat profiles, reduced stress response and social isolation, and increased physical activity. But longitudinal studies of dog ownership and risk of death have produced mixed results. A new systematic review and meta-analysis evaluated 10 published studies that included over 3 million human participants. Analyses showed that dog ownership was associated with a 24 percent lower risk of death during follow-up periods ranging from one to 22 years. More striking, dog owners with a history of acute coronary events, such as a heart attack, had a 65 percent lower risk of dying during follow-up. Adopting a dog might help you Keep Moving, Defuse Chronic Stress, Cultivate Social Connections, three health lifestyle choices that predict a longer and better life.


Your dog may improve your health and well-being in several ways. Fido may expand your social connections by facilitating conversations with people you don’t know. Your pooch may help you be more physically active, perhaps helping you get more than the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of brisk walking per week. Or your pup may help you relax and lower chronic stress, thereby reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack.

What to do

When my daughter, Helen, turned 13, she announced that she wanted to get a family dog. After she met several requirements that my wife and I identified, we visited our local humane society and adopted Amelia J Puppy Dog. What a blessing she turned out to be! I can’t say for sure if Amelia helped our family members relax more, but she without a doubt expanded our social networks and induced us at least double our daily walking. If you’re willing to care for a dog, consider adopting a pooch at your local humane society.

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