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Dogs, Social Support and Health: A Winning Combination

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

We know that exercise is good for the heart. We know that having companionship is good for health. But, did you know that owning a dog helps relieve stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate? Please read:

Psychology Today Magazine published an article in its April 2006 edition about a research project completed at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In this study, 480 people were subjected to various types of stress inducing tasks. In some cases, the subject was allowed to have their dog present during the task and in other cases the dog was not permitted to be with its owner. The same was true of the subject’s spouse. In some cases, the spouse was allowed to participate and in others the spouse was absent. Before, during, and after the experiment, blood pressure and heart rate were carefully monitored and documented. The results of the study were fascinating:

Results:

The tasks required of the subjects were successful in sending heart rates and blood pressure soaring.

When a participant’s spouse was present, blood pressure and heart rate were the highest of all participants even though the spouse was permitted to provide any type of social support they thought necessary.

Stress response was lowest among those who were allowed to have their dogs present during and after the task.

It is not surprising that the researchers speculated that the reason why those with their dogs present had a better outcome is that dogs are comforting and non-critical.

This study coincides with another recent research project, which demonstrated that loneliness and the lack of social support in the life of an individual leads to high blood pressure. It seems that a pet, particularly a dog, goes a long way toward providing owners with a sense of responsibility, comfort, and companionship that has real health benefits. For one thing, the mere process of walking a dog leads to the opportunity to speak with people and interact. Children, other adult dog owners, and interested neighbors stop to interact with those who are walking their dogs. In addition, dogs are always welcoming when their owner returns home from having been elsewhere. For those people who live by themselves and may feel socially isolated, this welcome feels very good and reassuring.

As long as a person is free of allergies and enjoys dogs, owning one is fun and even has these wonderful health benefits.

Any guesses as to why the presence of a spouse did not help??

Your responses are welcome.

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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