It's morning. The alarm goes off. You open your eyes and you're met with another pair of them, as well as a wet nose. You can tell from the way his head is swaying that he's wagging his tail. You smile and he takes that as a note of permission to start licking your face. You giggle, give him a cuddle and jump out of bed.
You know getting up in the morning is a lot easier and more fun when you've got a dog who's so excited to see you open your eyes. He's even more excited as you get dressed to go out and grab the leash by the door. By now he's jumping up and down and making weird, excited maneuvers chasing his own tail. It's as if going for a morning walk is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to him. You can't help but smile.
This is the thing about dogs. They make your life better. They make you smile more. They force you to move. They encourage you to be more mindful of the present. They make you feel loved. Perhaps that's why it's no surprise that science has shown dogs improve your physical, mental and emotional health. Here's exactly how:
1. Dogs improve your mood.
Study after study has shown that owning a pet can help you to maintain a more positive, optimistic perspective on life and what you're faced with. Better yet, they can even lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety. There are many reasons why this might be the case but author and animal expert Karen Winegar sums it up beautifully: "The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can."
2. Dogs make you feel loved.
Spending time with dogs, and even more so petting them and cuddling them, increases your levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin, known as the "love hormone," is a neurotransmitter that calms your nervous system down, relaxing you, whilst also increasing your trust.
3. Dogs lower your stress.
Petting dogs not only ups your oxytocin but also lowers your cortisol, the stress hormone. In line with this, studies at the University of New York found that people experienced lower levels of stress when conducting a stressful assignment when they had a pet with them. Studies in workplaces have also shown that taking dogs to work lowers your stress, improves your recovery after challenges and even increases positive social interactions.
4. Dogs help you to be social.
If you're shy, an introvert or simply not that confident in social situations, your dog can help you with this. As your dog greets another dog, it's natural to exchange a few words with the dog's owner. It's easier to chat because you already have one common ground (i.e. dogs) and having these simple interactions can help up your confidence.
5. Dogs keep you healthy and fit.
If you own a dog and you love them, you take them out for walks. You play with them. You keep them entertained. That means you're active throughout your day which naturally boosts your physical health whilst also, as an added bonus, improves your mood. In line with this, clinical studies have shown that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, both reducing the risk of heart-related illnesses.
These are only a few of the many ways that dogs improve the quality of your life. If you've got a dog, make sure you give them an extra cuddle today and tell them how grateful you are for them. Don't worry about whether they will understand or not. They will feel it — and so will you.