Dogs are our best friends. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know why. Canines are cuddly and loyal and don't judge your Bachelorette binges. But did you know they could also lower your stress levels and help you stay fit? Through cold, hard data, many recent studies have established what humans have known for thousands of years: canines make perfect companion animals. This doesn’t mean it’s always easy taking care of a dog. It just means your effort is worth it because sometimes, they take care of you. Those moments, and all the research-backed reasons below, make adding a fluffy friend to the family a no-brainer.
6 Very Real Benefits of Having a Dog, According to Science
1. They Provide Social Support, Especially for Young Kids
You call your pup “Buddy” for a reason! Studies show having a pet dog or cat can pump up self-esteem and foster a sense of belonging—especially in kids and adolescents. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health states there’s evidence that owning a pet boosts intellectual, emotional and social development in young people. Study participants affected most were kids under age six or over age 10. Children with pets were more socially active and playful with others than kids without pets. They also had larger social networks.
Dogs can propel adult social lives forward, too. A 2015 survey reached out to 2,700 random adults by phone in four cities (Nashville, Tennessee; San Diego, California; Portland, Oregon; and Perth, Australia). Researchers found pet owners were 60 percent more likely to meet friends in their neighborhoods than non-pet owners. Beyond that, almost half of respondents with pets said they turned to friends they met through their pets when times got tough and they needed support.
At the very least, dogs decrease feelings of loneliness. They live with us! Whether or not they’re allowed on the couch is up to you, but at least they’re there.
2. They Ease Stress
Simply spending time with a dog—and actively petting one—has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and increase feelings of calm in people. In fact, many high-stress workplaces have implemented programs with designated support dogs to ease employee anxiety.
For example, in 2021, Captain Robert Moree of the Cedar Hill Fire Department in Cedarville, Texas, was concerned about the mental health of his fire fighters, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says roughly 30 percent of first responders report feeling depressed and experiencing symptoms of PTSD.) To ease employee stress and add a bit of joy around the station, Fire Station #212 adopted Clementine, a 3-year-old Catahoula/hound mix, from a local shelter. She immediately bonded with the firefighters and now lives at the station, cared for and appreciated by the entire crew. (Clementine was also recently named the ASPCA’s Dog of the Year!)
Remember this the next time your boss asks if there’s anything they can do to improve workplace morale.
3. They Make Your Kids More Responsible
Makes sense, right? To take care of a pet means thinking about something (or, ahem, someone) other than you. Animal Humane reported in 2019 that their study on classroom pets revealed social skills, including responsibility and engagement, were much more developed in kids taught in classrooms with pets. Parents of kids who had classroom pets reported seeing less antisocial behavior in their children at home.
Michigan State University Extension, an organization that shares data and knowledge from MSU with community members, says pet ownership also teaches kids how to be patient, a life-long skill we’d love them to learn sooner rather than later.
4. They Lessen Allergies in Children
This one sounds a bit counterintuitive given all of the fur and dander, but according to a 2018 study published in the National Library of Medicine, kids who grow up with pets (and are thus exposed to common allergens) have a lower risk of developing asthma, allergies and eczema than kids in animal-free households. In fact, having more than one dog (or a dog and a cat) during a child’s first year is essential to building up an immunity to allergic conditions. There’s no guarantee your child won’t develop allergies later or have a reaction to pet dander at all, but the science bodes well for pet ownership early in life.
5. They Encourage You to Be More Active
You've heard this before, but it's true: People who own pets get in more daily activity than those who don't. We have daily dog walks to thank for this. Since our dogs have to go to the bathroom outdoors and require regular walks to burn energy (not to mention dog park visits, hikes and more), it’s our duty to get them out there. Health organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the Arthritis Foundation encourage people to walk more. Regular walking is linked to better sleep, stronger bones, improved brain function and weight loss. In addition to the daily strolls, studies have found that pet owners tend to exercise more often in general.
A 2015 report from Harvard Medical School titled Get Healthy, Get a Dog, suggests dog ownership can decrease cholesterol levels in humans, regardless of other lifestyle habits. This definitely doesn’t mean getting a dog can cancel out your smoking habit, but it does mean getting a dog could improve your long-term health.
6. They Help You Age Better
Aside from the health benefits mentioned above, dogs may decrease blood pressure. A 2018 study of the impact of dogs on nursing home residents found that “repeated visits by a therapy dog–handler team decreased the older adults’ heart rate.” Plus, residents known to have high systolic blood pressure saw that level decrease after hanging out with dogs.
As humans age, we naturally face more trauma. Life is full of ups and downs, and dogs make the grief process more manageable. One section of the population frequently handling death is funeral directors. Many funeral homes like Prout Funeral Home in Verona, New Jersey, are adding therapy dogs to their team rosters. Their pup, Morris, was trained by Ultimate Canine and now serves as a Director of Community Engagement. The Prout Funeral Home sends Morris (with a chaperone, we’re sure) to nearby “retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, libraries and more” to help people struggling with feelings of grief or anxiety. Ultimate Canine says it saw requests for funeral home therapy dogs double between 2019 and 2021, an unsurprising shift given how many families were also adopting dogs during that time.
The bottom line is there’s plenty of scientific evidence showing dogs make families healthier and happier, especially those with kiddos in the mix. Canines aren’t for everyone, but if you can swing it and have the time and energy to devote to a dog, we say go for it.