Pets can provide their owners with much more than companionship. A children’s relationship with pet dogs study recently concluded by researchers at Kent State University, and published in February, 2018, looked at children from 9 – 11 years of age who lived in families who owned a dog. The study found that children who exhibit a close bond with their pet dog also feel a stronger bond with their parents and best friends. The study discovered that if one type of relationship was strong, the other relationships were likely to be strong as well. Another recent study shows that, in addition to human-human bonds being enhanced, dogs can help create critical social support, which is good for long-term health.
In fact, an APPA Pet Owners Survey from 2017-2018 shows the following Benefits of Owning a Dog by Families with Children under the age of 18.
42% - Bring my family closer together
67% - Companionship/love/company/affection
60% - Fun to watch/have in household
55% - Good for children/reach responsibility
43% - Good for health/helps us live longer
57% - Like a child/family member
48% - Relaxation/relieves stress
Pets can help improve self-esteem
Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that pet owners exhibit stronger self-esteem than non-pet owners. In addition, pet owners are more affectionate and less fearful than people who don’t own pets. This fact is played out time and time again when non-pet owners display apprehension or fear when encountering a pet, especially if the pet is a dog. Pets can sense this apprehension and sometimes become more emboldened and act even more aggressively toward the non-pet owner. It is important to always feel confident and show a strong sense of self-esteem during encounters with pets.
Pets can help reduce our negativity
Like a friend might help you feel less negative after a bad social experience, simply thinking about a pet has been suggested to have the same effect.
In a study conducted with 97 pet owners (see the PsycNET article above), participants were unknowingly subjected to a negative social experience. They were then asked to either write about their best friend, their pet, or draw a map of their college campus (the control group).
This study showed that the participants who wrote about their pet or their best friend both showed zero negative feelings and were equally happy, even after encountering the negative social experience. The control group, however, continued to show negative feelings.
Pets can help reduce loneliness
In addition to improving self-esteem, pets can reduce the amount of loneliness we feel.
One study found that people who owned dogs reported having their social needs fulfilled just as effectively by their pets as by their friends. The research subjects reported that their pet dogs provided them with a strong sense of self-esteem, belonging and a meaningful existence.
Unlike the stereotype, however, people do not seem to rely on their pets more when their human interactions are lacking. That is, people don’t turn solely to their pets in lieu of having friends, but rather enjoy their pets’ company in addition to the company of their friends.
Pets make us feel supported
Studies have also revealed that pet owners feel they receive just as much support from their pets as they do from their other family members (see the PsycNET article above). Much like the example above, people report feeling closer to their pets when they also feel close to important people in their lives.
Pets help make us want to stay healthier
It’s really hard to sit on the couch all day and watch TV when your dog or cat is begging for attention. Maybe it’s because of this that studies have shown pet owners are healthier and more active than non-pet-owners (see the PsycNET article above).
Whether you’re dragging a toy around your house for your cat or taking your dog on a casual walk, you’re getting some exercise. Of course, dog owners are likely to do more walking, which is great for both your health and mood.
Pets can help make us less stressed
Studies show that interactions with therapy animals can decrease stress in humans.
Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. These hormonal changes can help a nervous child feel more relaxed about reading aloud. Reduced stress can also benefit physical health. Even more impressive is the suggestion that pets can help reduce stress and comfort us even more than our friends and spouses. Their furry friendliness and unconditional love, plus the fact that they don’t judge us, make pets the best support system during stressful times.
The bottom line is: Pets improve our lives in more ways than we can ever imagine. We should be very thankful for all they do to keep us comforted, motivated, in better spirits, in better shape and less stressed. And perhaps we are thanking them more. The pet products industry sets a new record for pet spending nearly every year, and pets are traveling with, and spending more time with, their owners as more pet products are developed that make it easier on both the pet and pet owner to spend even more of their day together. As Martha Stewart likes to say, “It’s a Good Thing.”
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