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Dogs and their role in improving mental wellbeing.

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

By: Eliabel Legrand

Known as man's best friend, a loyal companion, but recent studies from the University of Sydney has revealed that dogs may do more than just be a loving companion.

The University of Sydney researched the effects of dog ownership on people's mental health through a controlled experiment called PAWS. In which they followed 71 Sydney residents over 8 months.

The study compared the wellbeing of 3 groups of people, new dog owners, those who wanted to get a dog but held off during the trial and those who had no future intentions of becoming a dog owner.

The study found that people new to owning a dog self-reported feeling less lonely within 3 months of getting a dog, the effect staying to the end of the study.

Evidence was found that suggests that new dog owners experience feeling less negative emotions such as being scared or upset. However they found no impact on psychological distress but there is other research from other researchers such as Dr Patrica Pendry & Jaymie Vandagriff, have found that petting an animal can alleviate stress levels and cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, release ‘feel-good’ hormones like serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, and instill a deep sense of ‘ontological security’ ( meaning they feel a sense of belonging ). As well as that people generally felt that having a dog increased their social interactions with neighbours or new people.

Previous research has also shown that human and canine interaction can have major benefits in places like nursing homes using therapy dogs, but there was very little research into the impacts of dog ownership for everyday interactions at home. This study conducted by the University of Sydney has become a stepping stone to be able to understand the effects of dog ownership on the mental wellbeing of the owners.

Because of the increasing rate of social isolation, these findings are very important as they show that owning a dog can decrease this because people reported to get out more when owning a dog which resulted in them getting to know more people in their neighbourhood.

Owning a dog has also been shown to decrease the likelihood to suffer from cardiovascular disease, cancer, or depression.

The research team is currently conducting parallel studies which investigate the effects of dog ownership on the owner's physical activity patterns.

Owning a dog is more than just having a pooch bounding around your house, having a dog ( or any pet ) can have major positive impacts on your mental wellbeing. So next time you feel sad, stressed or lonely go find your pet and spend some quality time with them, not only will it make them feel happy but it will make you feel happy too.


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