This is a guest blog written by Abi Pennavaria of Saved by the Bark

Man has been domesticating dogs for thousands upon thousands of years, both for work and companionship. Dogs are eager to please, wanting nothing more than to see their owners happy (which in itself is a mood-booster!), and it’s even backed by science that having a dog can make you a generally happier person.

Owning a dog can improve your life and mood overall by:

  • Improving your self-esteem – dogs love their owners unconditionally. What better an ego boost than to have a being in your life that loves and understands you no matter what?
  • Enhance your social life – dogs are inherently social creatures and crave constant attention and stimulation, both physical and mental. Owning a dog means getting out to take your dog for walks, going to the dog park, where you will come into contact with other dog owners. People love their dogs – and dogs are always a conversation starter!
  • Improve your physical health – Dogs need a lot of exercise (and so do their owners). Getting out and taking your dog on a couple of walks every day gets your blood pumping and improves your overall health.
  • Give owners a sense of purpose – for many people, their dog is the reason they get out of bed in the morning. Something to love, care about, and nurture gives dog owners a sense of purpose. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, the companionship of a dog might be just what you need to get on your way to healing.

The Science Behind Why a Dog Makes You Happy

According to a report by the NIH, interacting with animals has shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and blood pressure, decreasing the feelings of anxiety and fear. Interacting with pets also has shown to cause humans to release a chemical called oxytocin, which is thought to be responsible for feelings of calm, happiness, love, and bonding.

Dogs and Special Needs Individuals

Some dogs serve as both a companion and a therapy animal. Special needs individuals can benefit greatly from the mood-boosting power of having a dog around.

Special Needs Children and Dogs

The bond between humans and dogs is strong – and the bond between children and their dogs can be even stronger. Special needs children, especially, may benefit from a companion dog. Studies have shown that children on the autism spectrum that have had dogs from a young age tend to have more developed social skills than their non-dog owning peers.

Many parents of special needs children opt to introduce a professionally trained therapy dog into their homes. A trained therapy dog can be trained to respond to the actions of special needs children, by stopping them from repetitive motions, accidental self-harming, and even keep them from wandering.

Special Needs Adults and Dogs

Special needs adults as well can benefit from the mood-boosting power of having a dog. Whether a trained therapy dog or a companion animal, dogs can offer a calming, soothing presence when things get overwhelming.

Many adults choose to have a specially trained service dog that can be taken into public places with them. Keep in mind, however, that service dogs and emotional support or therapy dogs are very different in the eyes of ADA laws.

Should I Adopt a Dog?

Adopting a dog is not a decision to take lightly. A dog’s lifespan is between 12-15 years, on average. Would-be dog owners should be prepared (and willing, and able) to provide 12-15 years of food, medical care, toys, treats, and boarding fees as well as the hours of necessary attention, playtime, and training. If you feel you have the emotional, physical, financial, and mental fortitude to care for a dog for its entire lifespan, you may be a great candidate for a dog.

Whether your dog is a professionally trained therapy dog, a companion animal, or a working dog, dogs are eager to please their owners and provide years of joy, happiness, and unconditional love.

Abi Pennavaria is a dog mom, avid volunteer vet, and co-author of Saved By The Bark blog. She enjoys sharing tips and tricks for dog owners of all breeds.

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