These are unprecedented times. It is difficult to predict what effects the coronavirus will have. Perhaps one of the least anticipated outcomes is that animal shelters are hardly able to keep up with adoption requests. “Animal shelters in the Washington region are experiencing a unique problem: As the coronavirus pandemic has kept more residents at home, it has created such a high demand for adopting dogs that the supply is increasingly limited,” The Washington Post writes.
Nationwide, Last Chance Animal Rescue reported a 30 to 40% increase in annual adoptions. Interest is so high some animal shelters are getting twice as many requests to adopt.
Why are more people welcoming a dog into their family during the pandemic? First, people are spending more time at home than ever before. While they may have had a lengthy commute or traveled regularly before the pandemic, people are now overwhelmingly at home. Likewise, with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraging preventative measures like social distancing, more people are longing to replace the physical connection of hugging friends and family. Adopting a dog helps safely meet that need — and then some.
According to MercerMe, the act of petting a dog decreases blood pressure and eases muscle tension. Whether in the midst of a global pandemic or during a more typical time, there are many reasons why families should get a dog. Learn the five most compelling reasons to welcome a dog into your family.
1. Dogs Lower Stress
Working from home at an office job, like a website design agency, can be lonely work — even with a spouse and children. In fact, long hours stuck at home have created a rift in many families. Due to the pandemic, “a full 45% reported their relationship faced new stressors,” the Institution for Family Studies (IFS) reveals. Financial hardships, spousal disagreements about the severity of COVID-19 and the best precautions to take, and new challenges balancing work and family are all taking their toll.
Surprisingly, a dog can help counteract many of these stressors. Here are science-backed reasons that owning a dog can help.
- Dogs relieve stress and anxiety. “Even just petting a familiar dog lowers blood pressure, heart rate, slows breathing, and relaxes muscle tension,” according to The American Kennel Club (AKC). Plus, even short interactions with dogs can help. The AKC and Washington State University reveal that even 10 minutes is enough to feel significant benefits.
- Regularly interacting with a dog is good for your heart. Stress contributes to many serious health problems, including cardiovascular problems. Dogs lower stress and lower blood pressure permanently, not just over the short-term. This permanent reduction of stress and blood pressure helps stave off heart problems and ultimately reduces dog owners’ risk of death.
- Dogs make us happier. Another reason why families should get a dog is that dogs make us happier. Hugging a dog, playing with a dog, or petting a dog releases oxytocin. Oxytocin relaxes you and improves your response to stressful situations. According to The Washington Post, the oxytocin boost from being around a dog is so powerful, you and your family members can experience benefits simply by making eye contact.
- During times of crisis, owning a dog can make all the difference. Did you ever wonder why therapy dogs play so heavily into the rehabilitation of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? When veterans suffering from PTSD work with a therapy dog, studies show that these veterans have lower cortisol levels. They experience fewer symptoms of PTSD and show greater improvements over time.
- In recent years, therapy dogs are playing an increasingly large role. Specifically, following September 11, there is a growing reliance on crisis response dogs or disaster relief dogs. “These special dogs and their human handlers alleviate trauma and help people heal” and “have comforted victims of shootings, mudslides, and hurricanes,” The Dog People writes. These dogs are specially trained to act as an emotional salve in some of life’s most stressful situations.
- While the vast majority of dogs in shelters do not have this special training, they can still help ease the tension and trauma associated with crisis somewhat. For example, it can be especially healing to own a dog while navigating the day-to-day challenges of COVID-19.
- Dogs encourage us to live in the here and now. Mental health experts agree one of the best ways to combat stress is to live in the here and now. Many espouse the benefits of being present and/or practicing the principles of mindfulness. Dogs help you do it by drawing your attention back to the present moment. When you pet a dog, chances are you are focused on the act of petting your dog. Likewise, when you play catch with a dog, you are more likely to focus on throwing the ball and your dog retrieving it. This focus helps take your mind off the past and any worries you may have about the future.
There are many reasons why families should get a dog. One of the most important reasons is that dogs significantly reduce stress. Whether you work from home or in an auto body shop specializing in car dent repair, having a dog around can dramatically reduce stress — and science backs that up.
2. When You Need Emotional Support, Dogs Will Be There
There are plenty of good reasons why families should get a dog. In addition to lowering stress, dogs provide constant companionship. A loyal dog can go a long way to prevent you and your family members from feeling lonely.
In a study by Human-Animal Bond Research, 85% of those surveyed reveal they are confident that owning a dog can help curb loneliness. Here are some of the critical circumstances when dog ownership truly helps.
- You are divorcing your wife or husband. Ideally, the reasons why families should get a dog would revolve around bringing the entire family closer. Unfortunately, that’s not always how it works. Things happen, and divorce is even more common now due to the global pandemic.
- If you are getting a divorce, adopting a dog can be a bright light in an otherwise dreary situation. Taking care of the dog and seeing the dog can give your children something to look forward to. It can give them something to focus on other than the stressful changes that come along with a divorce. Plus, the companionship will do wonders for your mental health as well.
- Your family just moved to a new town or city. Divorce is not the only thing that can take a toll on the modern family. Even something as commonplace as moving to a new town or city can be quite the adjustment for your family. Do your due diligence. Just like it is wise to request necessary repairs during home inspections and work with a pest control service or rodent removal company upon moving in, it is wise to consider the mental health of your family as well. If you, your spouse, or your children are likely to have trouble adjusting (i.e., if you are moving across the country or moving out of a tight-knit community of friends), it is wise to take steps to proactively look after your mental well-being. One way to do that is to get a dog. As stated, dogs provide companionship, lower blood pressure, and make us happier.
- Your family is struggling with isolation due to COVID-19. Social distancing guidelines suggest avoiding large gatherings. If at all possible, families are encouraged to stick together and keep interactions within their current household. People are encouraged not to travel and not to make social calls with extended family and friends. Strictly adhering to these guidelines can take a tremendous toll on our mental health. According to HealthAffairs.org, “Within the first month of COVID-19, loneliness increased by 20 to 30%, and emotional distress tripled.”If you or your family members are feeling particularly alone thanks to COVID-19, adopting a dog can go a long way to combat that loneliness.
3. Dogs Teach Children Responsibility
If the reasons why families should get a dog aren’t quite enough to justify the decision so far, rest assured, there are still more to come. Dogs make us happier, temper loneliness, and teach young children and teenagers about responsibility.
Tailor your child’s experience to his or her age. For example, don’t put too much on especially young kids. If your kids are so young that they are still experiencing milestones like their first trip to the dentist, they are too young to shoulder any great deal of responsibility for the family dog.
For toddlers and young children, all pet care should be supervised by a responsible adult. Ask your children to help with simple, everyday tasks. For example, buy a small, kid-sized brush and ask your child to help you brush your pet. You can teach them to brush the dog gently by demonstrating first. Another option is to ask them to let you know whenever the dog’s water bowl is getting low. Praise and reinforce reminders, but — of course — keep an eye on it and do not rely solely on your child.
Preteens and teenagers, on the other hand, can take a much more active role. Dogs can be the perfect opportunity to teach them about responsibility and to help reinforce good behaviors, like establishing a routine and caring for others. They’d need to understand what would be dangerous for dogs to eat, like parents’ smoking cigarette vaporizers or a kid’s chocolate stash.
Once again, be honest about your preteen or teenager’s capabilities. After an honest assessment, consider asking them to help walk the dog, exercise the dog, feed the dog, help put the dog’s toys away, or even take an active role in training your dog. If your kids help feed the dog, keep it simple. Teach them to use a measuring cup to keep meals consistent. As for training, preteens or teenagers may be able to take place in training classes created specifically for dogs and kids.
4. Dog Owners Can Be More Social
One of the most compelling reasons why families should get a dog is that owning a dog can encourage families to be more social.
Whether you are lucky enough to have a large backyard and quality residential fencing or you live in a small apartment, many dog owners opt to take walks and head out to the local dog park from time-to-time. While at the dog park, you will meet other dog owners and other families. That is why socialization is one of the top reasons why families should get a dog.
Dog parks are outdoor, open, and airy. Families can stay safe and socially distant while at the dog park now, during the pandemic, and enjoy them freely when the pandemic is over.
Another place that you might meet families with similar interests is during training classes. Just like you interact with other parents when your children attend a preparatory school, you will interact with other dog owners in passing if you enroll your dog in training and/or obedience classes.
Making friends as an adult — and particularly as an adult with young children — can be tricky. Owning a dog is a great way to meet other families and form lasting friendships with them.
5. Dog Owners Exercise More
Until you own a dog, all of your transportation may take place largely inside a car. Your mind may be on car flooring, not what type of shoes to wear. A dog can help shift that focus. Instead of only driving to and from places, owning a dog requires regular walking to keep your dog healthy. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) reveals that “dog owners are 54% more likely to get the recommended amount of exercise than their non-dog owning counterparts.” Remember most breeds need to go on a walk at least once a day to maintain a healthy level of fitness. Doing that will help you maintain fitness as well, making it one of the top reasons why families should get a dog.
Spending more time outside can alert you to other necessities as well, like the need for new exterior paint or gutter repairs. All in all, some of the most important reasons why families should get a dog is to be more active and spend more time outdoors.
What are the most convincing reasons why families should get a dog? Dogs provide companionship, lower stress, teach responsibility, and encourage parents and kids alike to get more exercise. Consider adopting a pup today!