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Reap the Health and Beauty Benefits of Having a Dog

Here’s how to make the most of your time with your furry friend and live a healthier, happier life.

| April 6th, 2012
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Reap the Health and Beauty Benefits of Having a Dog

When your dog bounds towards you with the unbridled excitement equivalent to a celebrity spotting and gives you one big, wet lick on your cheek the minute you come home, it’s hard to imagine a better instant mood-booster. But there are a myriad of other benefits to welcoming a furry friend into your fold, from increased self-esteem to more exercise and less loneliness.

Once you’ve decided to bring a dog into your home, find out how you can make the most out of your time with your pup—and gain those health and beauty benefits to boot.

MORE: Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

Cuddle with your dog.

Fido won’t do you much good if he’s always off in a corner by himself. Alan Beck, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and his co-researcher Aaron Katcher found in the early ‘80s that when people interact with dogs, “you actually get a drop in blood pressure—a true relaxation response,” he says. More recently, researchers in Japan found that dog owners who were bonded to their pets experienced a spike in oxytocin—a neurotransmitter that helps us cope with stress—from simply meeting their dogs’ gazes.

We’re social animals, so we gravitate toward this kind of bonding behavior: “Every culture has touch as a positive thing, because social animals have to be near each other,” Beck says. Feeling a bit stressed? Try taking a few moments to pet or cuddle with your pup. He’ll benefit from it, too.

MORE: The Beautiful Benefits of Touch

Talk to your neighbors.

A lot of the stigma against talking to strangers on the street disappears when you’re walking with your dog. A study done in 2000 found that an experimenter walking a dog had three times as many social interactions than when she walked alone. That’s because animals can serve as social facilitators, according to Beck. This isn’t just a matter of small talk: what starts as a casual chat at the dog run can carry over into friendship or even a long-term relationship. (On a personal note, since I got a dog six months ago, I’ve become friendly with a good majority of the people in my building. I live in New York City, and trust me, this isn’t the type of place where neighbors become friends.) Once in a while, take out those iPhone earbuds and just stroll with your four-legged friend. You never know when that cute guy with the Husky will be walking down your block.

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