How dogs can improve your health – Life Hacks – photo of dog playing

How dogs can improve your health

A 4 minute read • Simon Q

Part of our life hacks series. As any dog owner will tell you, dogs are great companions, loyal friends and a huge source of comfort to many people. They come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. There are toy dogs, working dogs, rescue dogs, assistance dogs and plain, old, shaggy dogs.

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But recent research on the psychological effects of not only owning a dog but simply spending time with one make persuasive reading. It seems that just being with a dog can reduce stress, lift depression and help rehabilitation from illness.

What’s the evidence in favour of dogs?

There’s enough anecdotal evidence that dogs can help lift your spirits, but there’s an increasing body of hard research that points to a wide range of benefits of seeking canine companionship.

Improve fitness and manage weight – dogs need to be walked so taking your preferred pal for a walk will give you exercise you may not have taken without your dog, leading to better fitness and weight-control for both of you

Reduce stress – studies show that petting dogs reduces anxiety and blood pressure and increases levels of dopamine and serotonin, the two ‘happy hormones’. Students in some UK universities have been given access to puppy-petting rooms where they can de-stress from exams

Fight depression – the evidence is rather complex here, but it seems that dogs can help to stave off depression in some elderly people and those with long term illnesses

Spot illness and aid injury recovery – again the research is patchy, but there’s evidence that some dogs can sniff out certain cancers and speed up recovery from particular injuries and illnesses

Reduce asthma and eczema in kids – probably the opposite to what we might expect, studies published in the American Journal of Medicine show that kids with dogs are less likely to have asthma; another study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2011, followed 636 children and found the rate of eczema was lower among kids who lived with a family dog

Steer people away from allergens – dogs can not only sniff out bombs but also help to alert people to the presence of allergens such as peanuts

Date magnets – use your imagination on this one

How dogs can improve your health – Life Hacks – photo of dogs meeting

What if you can’t own a dog?

Owning a dog can be a large commitment and cost. Perhaps you live in a small apartment or you’re often away from home for work, then owning a dog probably isn’t for you. But there are plenty of options open to you if you want to spend time with dogs.

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First, there’s dog-walking. You can register to become a dog walker and spend time with lots of different dogs as frequently as you choose. Clearly this is not easy if you are in full-time work, but if you have time on your hands and want to earn a little cash too then this could be a good option for you.

Then there’s volunteering at your local animal sanctuary. In the UK, the Dog’s Trust welcomes volunteers who can spend a little time with dogs before they are rehomed. Most animal charities welcome volunteers and you can become as involved as your time and inclination let you.

You could consider one of the many dog sharing schemes such as Borrow My Doggy. These schemes are a great way to share a dog with its owner. You can decide the level of involvement you want, from dog-sitting to walking and holiday care. You also get to meet new people and make new friends.

What else can you do?

Given the wide range of advantages that contact with dogs can offer, it’s worth making an effort to seek out some canine contact. Here are a few things that I do:

Tips for non-owners

  • Make time to spend with dogs owned by friends or your wider family
  • Say hello to dogs in pubs and on walks, but always ask the permission of the dog’s owner. Dog owners always respond positively in my experience – and the dogs love the attention
  • Watch all of those dog videos on social media. They always raise a smile and have a feel-good factor

How dogs can improve your health – Life Hacks – photo of dog walking

And finally, some dog-related trivia

Here’s a quick history lesson for information geeks. The Canary Islands were not named after the birds, but after dogs. The Latin word for dog, canis, was used to name the islands Las Islas Canarias when the Spanish first visited in the fifteenth century and saw packs of wild dogs roaming the islands.

Similarly, Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands was named after the Canary Islands on account of the volume of fruit from the islands that passed through the port. It’s probably a coincidence that the area is also called the Isle of Dogs.

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References  Harvard Medical School  Huffpost  Time Health

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