Dogs can provide companionship

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During a local lockdown, it may have been difficult for a lot of people to manage the stress and anxiety which can occasionally come with work, family life and general responsibilities. These pressures may leave many feeling the strain of day-to-day life and suffering from anxiety and stress. However, research has shown that pets could have a positive impact on their owners wellbeing during these challenging times and beyond.


A brief history of dogs and humans

Dogs and humans have always had a close connection, mainly because they have evolved alongside each other over time. Back when humans were still hunter-gatherers, it is likely some wolves left their packs for humans, due to their regular supply of leftover food. 

Animals have been a central feature of human life for many thousands of years. We know that from the earliest human times, wild animals and, later, agricultural animals have been important for the provision of food and other materials, transportation, and as part of cultural and religious practices.

Waltham Pet Care Science Institute

The relationship between dogs and humans has since evolved, with the domesticated dog becoming a common occurrence in many countries.

Dogs can read our communication signals

Dogs and their owners form a close bond and connection simply because they share a lot of time in each others company.

Looking after a pet, who has their own specific needs, can help bring purpose to daily life, especially for pet owners living alone during the coronavirus pandemic. Dogs can often understand our intentions, attitudes, gestures, looks and probably our emotions due to their long history of living in close proximity with humans. They are able to interpret communicative signals from their owners and can tell when something is wrong, often adapting their behaviour to fit in with their owner, which in some instances can help to reduce their owners feelings of stress.

How dogs can help ease isolation

Given the current pandemic, with local lockdowns enforced in some areas, the social benefits of owning a dog can have a positive impact within a family. For those who live alone, companionship dogs are especially important, as they can provide a source of company and help ease feelings of loneliness.

Close physical contact with a pet can provide some emotional relief for many owners. Feeling the temperature of a dog, stroking their fur and having them come to you for attention, can all provide some emotional relief and stimuli, particularly in these challenging times. It can also be reassuring to know that a dog will always be there for you, no matter what time of the day or night it is.

How else do dogs benefit your mental health?

During the domestication process, individuals with juvenile features were selected preferentially as their physical features trigger specific attachment signals in humans. Small dogs have become very popular partly due to their large eyes and their ability to look humans in the eye, although it’s important that you never stare too long at your dog as this can be intimidating to some. Studies have shown this ability to share a brief gaze can provide an oxytocin boost for both the human and pet. Oxytocin provokes physiological effects on the body, including lowering heart rates, which can result in positive feelings.

In 1980, a groundbreaking study showed that there was a significant positive association between having pets and one-year survival after hospitalisation for certain kinds of heart disease.

Waltham Pet Care Science Institute

Regular walks with your dog

Daily walks with your dog, provided this doesn't go against local restrictions, can provide the opportunity for fresh air, exercise and socially distanced chats with a fellow dog walker. This can help ease the stress and anxiety which may arise as a result of a local lockdown, and it will allow your dog to burn off any excess energy.

All dogs require physical activity and opportunities throughout the day to explore. Whilst it's recommended that dogs are taken for a walk at least two times a day, this might not always be possible depending on local restrictions. If you are not able to walk your dog, you can still provide mental and physical stimulation for them by playing with a toy in the garden or introducing puzzle feeders.

Regular walks will also offer an escape from the house, which is where the majority of people will likely be spending more time than usual, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Responsibility of owning a dog

Owning a dog is a big responsibility and a large financial commitment for many people. The regular care and attention needed to look after a dog on a day-to-day basis can also consume many hours. However, this responsibility can result in benefits for your mental health, due to the need to interact with other people, such as the groomer, vets, and other dog walkers, which can help combat loneliness.

The responsibilities of owning a pet can help provide structure and order to the day. During these challenging times, ordinary routines like going to work and socialising have changed, and in some instances been removed altogether. Therefore, looking after a dog can add order and purpose to a day which will be reassuring to many people.

Whilst owning a dog can bring many benefits, it is important to consider the time, money and responsibility involved in owning a pet, and especially how you can continue to care for them as you start to return to work.

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