Family Matters Health and Lifestyle Single Parenting

The Benefits of Owning a Family Dog

Dogs have been beloved family pets for thousands of years as countless tomb paintings, ancient artefacts and texts reveal. No one can pinpoint exactly when the hound was domesticated, but we are certain that it was the first tame animal to live with humans. History also shows that dogs were not only used to help with hunting, guarding, carrying, and herding but also satisfied the human need for companionship, unconditional love, and affection.

In today’s society, we need our canine friends more than ever to keep us physically and mentally healthy, help us be more sociable, and teach our children valuable life lessons. Dogs are one of the best family pets to choose especially in our busy society. There are so many benefits of owning a dog, that we would like to share some of them with you here.

Dogs provide companionship

We know dogs as “man’s best friend”. When we come home, they’re excited to see us, and 99% of us talk to them like they are a member of the family. During the pandemic, many singles acquired a dog to provide companionship as they suddenly spent all day working from home, rarely having a reason to leave the house, and often suffering mentally from the lack of human interaction. Equally, families found that COVID was the perfect time to introduce a pet to their kids, bringing the family closer together and providing endless hours of entertainment and distraction for both parents and children.

But even in normal times, our relationship with our pooch can sometimes be more consistent and reliable than our relationship with other humans. We include dogs in our daily routine and in many leisure activities, from walks around the neighbourhood or the local park, to hiking and camping. Dogs can become enmeshed in many aspects of our lives. Many of us even choose dog-friendly holidays to make sure we can take our furry friends along.young woman and her canine companion

Dogs keep us physically fit and healthy

Dogs help us increase our level of physical activity and provide other health benefits. As our canine companions need to be walked regularly, we are forced to go out in the fresh air, even when it is raining or blowing a gale. Dog owners also choose leisure activities that includes their furry friend, such as long hikes through the countryside.

Personally, I know that I would be far less likely to go on a walk or hike if it wasn’t for our family dog. She knows which shoes and trousers are for walking and hiking and goes insane for me to put her harness on when she knows we’re going out. Having that excitement is part of what gets me out the door in the first place.

A Liverpool study into the benefits of owning a dog, specifically the association between dog ownership and physical activity levels, concluded that dog owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people who don’t own a hound. They walk around 200 minutes more per week than people who don’t have dogs. Whether we’re walking, running, hiking, or just throwing a ball in the back garden, having a dog means we are more active in our daily lives.

Petting a pooch can also help to calm and relax us at the end of a stressful day. Studies show that petting your dog can lower blood pressure more than talking with someone about our day. Maybe it’s because dogs don’t talk back; they just listen!dogs keep us fit - benefits of owning a dog

Dogs make us more sociable

Yes, owning a dog makes you more sociable! Because our pets are often the reason we have conversations with others, they help improve both our and our children’s social skills. Our family recently moved to a new neighbourhood, and it was because of our family pet that we quickly befriended our neighbours. A dog is a great conversation starter, and you instantly feel you have something in common when you meet other dog owners out and about. Kids love to run over to stroke our pet, and other adults walking their doggies stop for a chat.

Dogs not only help us meet other humans, but they also can help improve our overall social skills. Sometimes, when we don’t know what to talk about, our pooch can be a conversational starting point and make us more approachable. Dogs also bring us together to socialize in spots popular with dog walkers.

Dogs’ impact on our mental health

Naturally, our lives aren’t all leisure and  holidays. Most people find everyday life stressful, and this is where a dog can have a calming and de-stressing influence, just like solo holidays with other adults in the same situation. Regular interaction with your dog helps to reduce anxiety naturally caused by the many stressors of modern life.

Stress and anxiety levels

Studies have shown that many single parents experience high levels of chronic stress, loneliness, and depression. Reducing parenting stress is key to raising happy and confident kids and creating a calm and peaceful home environment. It is known that dogs can balance out our cortisol and oxytocin levels. Balancing cortisol means we are less likely to suffer from anxiety, restless sleep, memory loss, lack of concentration, and depression. Increasing oxytocin levels, on the other hand, not only help to lower our stress and anxiety levels, but they can also help us to improve our communication skills at work and at home.single parent with daughter and border collie

Happiness hormones and depression

The therapeutic value of petting a dog has increasingly been recognised by doctors treating depression. Just five minutes of hugging a hound triggers oxytocin release, which together with another hormone called vasopressin, helps to modulate how we react to stress and social situations. It also disperses dopamine, boosting your mood and giving you a sense of pleasure and wellbeing.

By spending more time outdoors, we also receive a higher dosage of Vitamin D through sun exposure, which can help with treating depression.

Dogs and children

Research suggests that babies who grow up with pets have a lower risk of developing allergies, and that growing up with dogs can help decrease the risk of childhood asthma. But these are not the only benefits of owning a dog for children.

Pets provide a point of comfort contact for kids. Children who grow up in small families, with a single parent and no siblings for example, often feel less lonely growing up with a family pet such as a dog. Research also indicates that children with pets are less likely to suffer from childhood anxiety and depression, which carries over into adulthood. A family dog also increases a child’s emotional and social health.boy hugging his dog

Last but not least, owning a dog can teach children valuable life lessons. The very first household chore my daughter had was to water and feed the dog every day. Much later, the first death she experienced was the death of our canine family member. Here are some of the skills that children can learn from having a family dog:

  • Responsibility: Feeding, watering, taking the hound out when it needs to go, and regularly walking the dog can teach children how to be more responsible.
  • Empathy: Learning to understand a dog helps a child to try to understand and look out for the needs of others.
  • Patience: Helping to train a dog is an excellent way for a child to learn patience with others.
  • Loss: A dog’s short life can prepare a child for bigger life losses.
  • Self-esteem: Having an animal that provides a child with unconditional love can be a positive self-esteem boost for a child.

dog being fed

A Final Thought on the Benefits of Owning a Dog

It’s important to consider all aspects of introducing a canine friend to your family, such as the cost of owning a dog and the time it will take out of your probably already busy schedule. All things considered, we think that with all the benefits of a family dog, its worth is quite simply priceless. Writer and photographer Roger Caras said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

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