I recently adopted a dog after being without for many years. I really wanted to help one of the many dogs in the shelter, to give them a good, stable, loving home. But for several reasons it took me a long time to actually take the plunge.
I was worried about the responsibility, about who’ll look after him if I go on holiday or go out all day, about ending up with a “bad dog”, about vet and food bills, about making time for enough exercise and training, about getting up early in the mornings or during the night to take him out, and a whole host of other things, both real and imagined…
But here’s the thing, once he was here, all of that went away and I was left sitting with a new friend who does nothing but make my life immeasurably better. Yes, I am lucky that my new dog has settled in easily; I know that sometimes it takes longer and that some dogs may need more time and help, depending on their background.
For me, however, I have been lucky enough to give a dog in need a loving home, whilst feeling huge improvements in my life. Here are just a few of the benefits I’ve noticed since he arrived:
I’m less stressed
Since my new dog has been here, I’ve been spending time walking, playing and stroking him and I’ve been feeling much less stressed. This is both a subjective improvement and a clinical one, as my blood pressure has actually lowered. Recent research has shown that petting a dog for fifteen minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin whilst lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Blood pressure has been shown to drop by up to an astonishing ten percent!
I’m more sociable
It may sound strange but since getting a dog, my social life has improved. Wherever I go walking, people always stop to pet my dog and talk to me about his history. Other dog owners want to share funny stories, woes and advice about dog care and training. Friends, those who own dogs and those who don’t, have been clamoring to come over and meet my new guy and we all have something lovely to talk about…. dogs!
I get more exercise
I’ve always made exercise a priority in my day-to-day life but in the winter months it’s always more of a challenge. I have the intention to spend more time outdoors exercising but it’s too easy to look out at the rain and retreat to the sofa with a cup of tea and a tin of biscuits. Now I have a dog, I get a minimum of an hour’s brisk walking every single day, often much more. We’re out morning and evening, rain or shine, and often go out to play in the garden together in the afternoon too. Dog walking is a wonderful, joyful and easy way to take lots of exercise without even realizing it.
I get more daylight
I am outside much more since getting a dog, both walking and just generally hanging out in the garden, even in bad weather. A lot of recent research is showing that we should all be spending more time outside in the natural daylight, especially in the winter months when the days are short. Natural daylight, especially first thing in the morning, triggers the production of serotonin which is associated with good mood, calm and focus. It helps to regulate sleep, easing insomnia and promoting restorative sleep.
My heart rate is lower
I wear a wrist band which shows my heart rate and I’ve noticed that it is noticeably lower at rest. Whether this is from the extra exercise or the general feeling of lower stress, I cannot say. Research has shown this is yet another benefit of dog ownership and that, in consequence, dog owners are more likely to survive a heart attack compared to non-dog owners.
I feel less blue
Like many people, I suffer from a low mood in the winter. I’ve noticed myself feeling much happier and less depressed since getting my dog. Maybe this is a consequence of exercise and daylight or the hormone rush of loving and being loved by a new furry friend. Whatever the cause, I’m enjoying the sense of well-being that I feel each and every day.
I feel safe in my home
Nothing makes me feel safer than knowing I will be woken up if there’s a problem and I’ll have fore-warning of an intruder. A dog in the house ensures that there will be a volley of barking if anyone approaches or if the smoke alarm goes off in a far-off room.
Adopting a dog is not a decision to be taken lightly, of course. The responsibility is huge, you need a lifestyle that allows you to be home a lot of the time, you need to make a long term commitment of care and love for an animal that could be with you many years. But if you are able and willing, the benefits really are huge, for both the dog and for you.