August 26 is National Dog Day, founded in 2004 by Colleen Paige—a pet and family lifestyle expert, animal rescue advocate, conservationist, dog trainer, and author. This day honoring dogs of all breeds marks when Colleen and her family adopted their first dog, Sheltie, from a local animal shelter when Colleen was 10 years old.
While National Dog Day advocates for the adoption of dogs from shelters worldwide, it also celebrates the many roles they play in our lives, which include personal companionship, service for the disabled, law enforcement, and more. Among the most important roles they play is related to the mental health of their owners, with studies showing dogs' incredible impact on anxiety, loneliness, self-confidence, and more. Following are six mental health benefits of owning a dog.
1. Decreased Anxiety & Stress
Dogs provide a sense of safety and comfort to their owners as faithful and loyal companions who excitedly greet them at the end of every workday. Owning a dog has been proven to lower blood pressure, with Psychology Today reporting that dog owners with hypertension reacted less to a stressful task within just six months of adopting a new pet. Even petting your dog can alleviate anxiety by reducing cortisol— the stress hormone.
Some dog owners are single individuals or widowed older adults who crave companionship in their lives. Dogs make people feel needed and appreciated, alleviating loneliness and providing them with much-needed unconditional love. They also serve as a partner to walk through life with, accompanying their owner on hikes, vacations, family gatherings, and more.
3. Increased Happiness
Owning a dog comes with the obligation of ensuring they receive plenty of exercise, which means lots of walks and outings together. Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine, the chemicals responsible for happiness and an overall positive state of mind. These chemicals are also released simply by playing with your dog. In addition, the additional exercise improves your heart health and can add years to your life.
Being outside walking your dog likely means more interaction with fellow dog owners. Increased socialization often goes hand-in-hand with dog ownership, as you stop to chat with neighbors and fellow dog owners.
Dog owners can also meet new people in the following ways:
- Training classes
- Dog park visits (after the proper vaccinations, of course!)
- Meetup groups on Facebook (Meta)
- Fun runs and other dog-centric events
What's even better about meeting people through these events is it's already understood that you share a love for dogs.
5. Sense of Purpose
Especially relevant for single people and empty nesters, owning a dog provides a strong sense of purpose. If you're a parent with grown children, you understand that caring for another living being makes you feel valued, needed, and important. The same is true for owning a dog, as they rely on you for food, play, and overall health and happiness.
6. Greater Self Esteem
Since owning a dog comes with increased exercise, more socialization, reduced anxiety, and a greater sense of purpose, owners tend to experience a boost in self-esteem and confidence. They feel invigorated, healthier, happier, more extroverted, and have a more positive outlook on life due to life with a dog by their side.