Dogs for the win!

If you are a dog lover, you probably don't need another reason to adopt a dog because you probably already have one. If you're thinking about it, or have a friend that's wavering, here are a list of reasons that may sway someone to give dog ownership a try.

1. Dog owners are found to be more active.

Getting more exercise or at least the daily recommendation of exercise (30 or more minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 times per week according to the American Heart Association) is pretty easy if you're taking your dog out once or twice a day for walks.

The thing about inside dogs is that they NEED to go out at least once a day. (I used to walk my first dog up to three times a day but I was a little nervous about him having accidents in the house.) I walk the dog I have now twice a day. She probably doesn't need that much walking but she is my motivation for getting daily exercise. She is the reason I get up every morning--rain or shine--because I know she's gotta go out!  She prevents me from sleeping in, which isn't always something I'm happy about, but I know, when my logical brain wipes the sleep out of its eyes that this is a really good thing. Keeping on a routine for waking and sleeping helps assure good sleep habits. I also know that if I get up and get my shoes on to walk her, I'm getting just as much benefit as she is--I'm getting a start on my day with exercise. I also walk her in the evenings again because its a good way to clear my head, get a little more exercise, and I harbor the belief that she'll be much more comfortable throughout the night. 

2. Pet owners are calmer.

Pets are a built-in stress reliever! Several studies have shown that interacting with a pet reduces blood pressure and the release of stress hormones which could contribute to cardiovascular disease or anxiety. 

Even when my dog does something naughty--breaks into the cabinet that holds her treats and binges--when I catch her, I'm initially frustrated but her innocent look never fails to elicit a smile from me, quickly turning my frustration into laughter as I begin to see the humor in the situation. Laughter is the best medicine (for stress relief anyway!)

3. Dogs can be therapeutic. 

Many dogs are highly intuitive to their owner's emotional state--especially when the owner is sad or feeling anxious. They're great listeners and help to "ground" a person by forcing interaction (what I call the "nose nudge"). When a dog is nudging you to pet it, it forces you to come out of your head (what is distressing you) and enjoy what is right in front of (or on top of!) you. 

I recently saw a video of an autistic boy being brought out of an episode of hitting himself in the head by a therapy dog that reached up and pulled the boy's arms down and nudged the boy to pet and hug the dog instead. Another video I recently watched was of a combat veteran that suffers from PTSD being "grounded" by his therapy dog that sensed his hightened anxiety. The dog put his paws on the man helping to bring him to the present and reduce the anxiety he was experiencing. These recent videos may be new but these four-footed therapists have been in practice for a long time. I'm happy the videos are getting more views now so that the therapeutic effects of dogs comes into the public eye more and more.

I use dogs in therapy in my office sometimes. I have some clients that bring their dog with them to session because their dog helps support them as they talk about distressing subjects or helps to reduce their anxiety by grounding them. I encourage clients to bring this type of animal to therapy because it is a good resource for clients outside of the office when I'm not available to help support them or guide them to reducing their anxiety. I also sometimes bring my own dog to therapy. She has a crate in the office where she hangs out until she is needed by a client. She is well trained so that many clients aren't even aware that she's in the office at all. Those clients that need her support, though, are helped tremendously by her presence. 

4. Pets provide unconditional love.

I can't really speak for cats but dogs are always happy to see you when you return from work or school or even a trip to the supermarket. They want nothing more than to sit near you. They encourage you to "use" them for your anxiety and stress relief by nudging you to pet them. They provide ample kisses and affection night and day. In short, they see what a great person you are even when you don't.

My goal in life is to be as good of a person as my dog already thinks I am. -Author Unkown

5. Pets are good for kids.

Pet ownership is a great way to teach children responsibility as well as compassion and discipline. New pets require training and most training facilities want all of the family members to attend classes. The children, then, learn how to use positive reinforcement to get the dog to do what they want it to. This becomes a life-lesson for them by helping them to see the value of using positive reinforcement with others to encourage good behavior from people as well. They also learn self-control as they quickly learn that if they're hyper, the dog will likely be hyper and hard to control as well. This is the most frequent use of my dog in therapy. I see a lot of children and many of them have been diagnosed with ADHD which frequently means that they're overactive or hyper. They quickly learn if they want my dog to come out and "play", they have to control their own bodies and voices for her safety as much as for their own. Additionally, I use logical consequences--if they're unable to maintain the control of their body and voice, my dog has to be put back in her crate. It is a very valuable way to practice controlling and maintaining control of oneself in certain situations. 

Still not sure having a dog is right for you? Here's an infographic with even more benefits to dog ownership!