Can dogs improve your health?

By Pure Matters

My daughter and her fiancée were gearing up for a cross-country move when they came across a puppy in need of rescuing. Lula was tiny, sick and neglected and definitely needed a new home. But did these guys really need a puppy at this time in their life? They said they thought they were ready for some “dog energy.” I think I told them they were crazy. Lucky for Lula they didn’t listen to me. Lucky for them too, it turned out. Lula helped them through many transitions, as only a dog can.

Having a dog in your life really does provide many health benefits and the occasional chewed shoe (OK, one of my dogs actually chewed an entire couch) is often more than worth the price. In honor of National Dog Day this Sunday, here are a few ways our four-legged best friends help us lead healthier lives.

No Bones About It
Dogs feel best when they have a consistent routine, and part of that includes regular exercise. It’s no surprise that it’s good for people too. You may be full of excuses about why you’d rather not take a walk this evening, but your furry friend won’t let you off the hook so easily. Dogs make great exercise buddies, but they also create structure for their humans. For some people their pet gives them a really important reason to get out of bed in the morning to get busy taking care of someone special.

Healing Touch
According to an article by Mayo Clinic oncologist, Dr. Edward Creagan, animals have healing powers. When you pet a dog (or a cat) humans experience a surge of hormones that produce feelings of peace and serenity. This hormone, oxytocin is very beneficial to us and may be why Fido became “man’s best friend” in the first place. The presence of oxytocin helps increase our ability to heal and grow new cells.

Friend Magnet
Not only is your dog a first-rate companion, but you’ll find as you walk your dog or take him to the park your pet often makes it easier to meet people. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one and check it out. Dog topics are amazing conversation starters and most dogs also often love to meet other dogs, so you almost can’t help meet people. Friendships and positive people relationships have been proven in study after study to have a huge impact on maintaining good health.

The Dog Ate My Paper
Sometimes the family dog gets blamed for things ... a funky smell, a missing sock. But you know what? She doesn’t care. She considers it part of her job to help smooth things over. She also helps people talk about things that can be difficult subjects. She’ll lend an ear if you want to tell her, and only her, the things that are bothering you. She’ll really listen and won’t offer silly advice when you are done. She also helps people talk to each other. More and more therapists and doctors use dogs as facilitators in their psychological or speech pathology practices ... especially with children. Dogs have also been welcome visitors to Senior Centers for similar reasons. The dogs put people at ease and they are more willing to open up and talk ... a first step for healing.

Comic Relief
Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails.  ~Max Eastman, Enjoyment of Laughter.

I do believe dogs laugh. I’ve seen it. But more importantly for our good health, they make us laugh. Whether it is through Laughter Yoga or joke therapy or just attending a funny movie, laughter has been proven to be good for you. It releases more oxygen to the brain and the heart and it can even reduce pain. When you laugh it produces endorphins, the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals, a very effective way to antidote to pain. My dog is always cracking me up. I think that may be way easier than attending a Laughter Yoga class.

Make It A Good Fit
Soon after my kids arrived in Portland, they rescued another dog. (!!!) Jake was too big for his britches and definitely too big for their apartment, but he had already been abandoned a few times and they didn’t want him to go to the pound. Lucky for Jake, and for us, he came to live with us instead where he has lots of room to run and lots of jobs to do. He was not a good fit as a city dog and caused plenty of stress in their household even though they were diligent trainers and dog park people. But added stress was not a prescription for good health.

So before you fall in love with those big brown eyes and want to bring a dog home (for all those reasons of good health) make sure you understand the particular needs of that dog. Do some research about breeds and do some soul searching about yourself to make sure you can provide for those needs.

–Jen Maffett



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