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.
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.
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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