Man’s Best Friend: How Dog Ownership Benefits Humans
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole,” said wildlife photographer Roger Caras. This statement strikes at the heart of the human-canine relationship and how we as a species have become accustomed to the ancient partnership since the beginning of recorded history. The most recent archaeological evidence suggests that the domestication of dogs transpired through evolutionary selection of the ones friendliest to humans, who provided them with food. Though dogs certainly enjoy the free sustenance we give them, we derive great benefit as well from our metaphorical “best friend.” They can improve mental and physical health, and, depending on the breed, can perform certain tasks once trained.
Firstly, dogs can bring health benefits to their companions. A recent survey from a 2018 study suggested that canine companions improved people’s mental health; specifically, respondents with dogs were more than twice likely to be happier than those without (Powell et al). Other mental health improvements are also observed, such as decreased stress, loneliness, and depression. Dogs can also improve physical health. The same study also discovered that owners walked up to three times more often, with the accompanying benefits of increased physical activity, such as a decrease in blood pressure and weight loss. Owners also logged up to 2,760 more steps a day, which is 23 minutes of moderate exercise (Zolthian). Dog ownership also boosts psychosocial health, with a 40% likelier chance of meeting new people in their neighborhood, as well as meeting new friends.
Canine companions can be trained to do certain tasks to benefit their owners. The domestication of dogs has led to specialized breeds that are suited to different working conditions. Service dogs can guide their owners with physical (e.g. visual or auditory impairment) and psychological (e.g. PTSD, panic disorder) disabilities. Dogs can be used as search, rescue, and detection animals in law enforcement due to their keen sense of smell. Sport dogs can compete in races and bring back hunted game. Some specific breeds can also carry loads across icy terrain on sleds. Finally, many medium and larger breeds are used as guard and watch dogs, and homeowners often keep a dog as a deterrent to home invaders (Stafford).
In the estimated 15,000 years since early humans domesticated a wolf-like animal to become one of man’s constant companions, dogs have given us more reasons to stick by them aside from being simply pets and partners. Their positive effect on human health, as well as their versatility in performing certain kinds of work, have definitely earned them the sobriquet “man’s best friend.”
Handwerk, Brian. “How Accurate Is Alpha’s Theory of Dog Domestication?” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Institution, 15 Aug. 2018, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-wolves-really-became-dogs-180970014/. Accessed 2 May 2020.
Powell, Lauren, et al. “Expectations for Dog Ownership: Perceived Physical, Mental and Psychosocial Health Consequences among Prospective Adopters.” PLOS ONE, vol. 13, no. 7, 2018, p. e0200276.
Stafford, Kevin. “Welfare of Working and Sport Dogs.” Veterinary Information Network®, Inc. – VIN, 2008, www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?pId=11268&meta=generic&catId=32742&id=3866592&ind=11&objTypeID=17. Accessed 2 May 2020.
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