If there’s one thing we could all use a little bit more of, it’s time. (And money and chocolate– but that’s another story.) Your life is busy — especially during the holiday season — and your days are filled with work, errands, cleaning, families, and relationships. And if you’re in a time of transition – having a kid, starting a new job, getting married, etc. – your time is even more pinched. All of these things naturally affect your relationship with your dog(s) and how much time you’re able to spend with them. While some of us are lucky enough to spend all day at home with our pup, others get little precious special time with our furry friends. It should come as no surprise that no matter what your schedule is like, quality one-on-one time with your dog is super important, both for your pup and for you! You made the investment and important decision to get a dog, and it’s equally important to love them up as often as possible.
We know you probably don’t need a ton of specific reasons to spend time with your treasured friend-for-life, but we thought we’d round up ten reasons you really should be clocking extra hours.
1. They teach us to stretch, stop and smell the roses, and drink plenty of water.
There’s a lot we could learn from dogs. Throughout any given day, you’re likely to see your dog stretch, stop and smell flowers while on their morning walk, greet a neighbor and gulp down plenty of water once returning inside. When you think about it, these are all actions we could benefit from doing ourselves. So imagine taking a day where you actively mirror what your pup is doing. When he/she stretches, you stretch. When they stop to wag their tail at a neighbor, you ask how they’re doing. While they’re slurping some H20, you grab a glass for yourself. This isn’t always doable, of course, but if you take the time to pay more attention and mirror when you can, you may find yourself in a better state of mind and routine.
2. Dogs are especially helpful with ADHD, autism, and sensory issues.
As you’ll see throughout this roundup, having a pet can help tremendously with many mental and health issues. And we’re just scratching the surface! In particular, kids and adults with ADHD have shown to benefit from working with and keeping a pet. Making a pet schedule and taking charge of the jobs on it can teach a child to learn to plan and be responsible. Playing with a pet is a great way for kids with tons of energy to release excess energy, leading to a better mood and better sleep at night. Pets can also help children with ADHD learn about self-esteem. If a person has autism, having a dog can help with sensory integration activities as they learn the way something feels against their skin and how they react to certain smells or sounds. It’s also important for children – and adults! – who have conditions like this to learn and see that something understands them and doesn’t get frustrated or confused.
More and more mental health therapists are using dogs in their therapy, particularly when it comes to couples counseling. Not only does having a dog in the office help patients feel more comfortable, WebMD points out that a “remark to or about a dog may show what’s really on someone’s mind.” The site spoke to one therapist who told them about a couple in his office who started arguing and their dog (who usually just slept during the session), got up and wanted out of the room. Not only did this demonstrate to the couple (who also have kids) how their fighting was affecting others, it also signaled a new way for them to catch themselves and step back. If your dog is reactive to your relationships with others, take their actions as a healthy excuse to hit the pause button, reflect and more calmly address the situation.
Chances are, if you own a dog, you’ll be taking it on walks and to the dog park or along for errands every now and then. In which case chances are good people are going to want to talk to you. They’ll want to know what kind of dog you have, how old they are, where you got them, their name, etc. Especially if you’re at Petsmart or the dog park, where other dog owners are likely to be hanging out, the chance for human interaction is high. If you lead the kind of lifestyle (working from home, small office, etc.) where you don’t spend much quality time with other people, these little interactions can help you from spending too much time closed off from the ‘real world.’ It’s also not a shabby way to meet a date, if that’s something you’re looking for! Spending time with other humans and talking about shared interests (who doesn’t love talking about their pooch?) leads to a healthier mind and a happier life.
There’s a reason therapists have been known to prescribe a pet as a way to help heal and deal with depression. While things like exercise, healthy eating, therapy, and time spent with loved ones is no doubt important for those grappling with the disease, owning and looking after an adorable furry friend has proven to be successful in helping all kinds of people with depression, including children and ex-military. While there are many reasons this is true, maybe the most basic and sweet is simply because no one will love you more unconditionally than your pet. They always agree with you, are there to listen and accept you for exactly who you are. No matter what you’ve done or what has happened that day – a stressful day on the job, a big fight with your husband or sister, a scary car accident, etc. – they show the same amount of attention and affection. Caring for you pet – simply taking he/she on a walk, feeding them and snuggling up for some House of Cards, takes you out of yourself and makes you feel needed, wanted, and important. There are a lot of ways you could be spending your time, but with a dog you know that you’ll get out what you put in. Not much else in life carries such a solid return.
Aside from making your heart grow like the Grinch every time you see your pup do something adorable, studies show that dog owners have a significantly better survival rate one year after a heart attack. In fact, pet owners in general have a lower risk of dying from any cardiac disease, including heart failure. Considering heart disease is still the number one killer of both men and women, we could all use a little help keeping our hearts healthy.
We can’t blame you for skipping the gym this week. Or next week, or… you get the point. Time is money, and while you know exercise is great for both your mind and body, you’ve already got ten billion things on your plate. Luckily, dog owners are sort of tricked into exercise everyday, even if it’s just two or three thirty minute walks around the block to take their dog out each day. Less so, of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard they can run around in. But a good way to increase time spent with your pet, their health, and your health is to commit to taking them on a hike, run, brisk walk, or other heart-rate-improving exercise. You can start with small goals – once a week, maybe on a Saturday morning – and then work up from there. If you can get to the point where you’ve incorporated three days a week of physical activity with your pet, you’ve just ensured a much healthier lifestyle for the both of you!
While not a cure-all (you’ll still, of course, need to watch what you eat and how much exercise you get), the fact remains that having a pet can help you manage your blood pressure. In one study of 240 married couples, pet owners showed lower blood pressure and lower heart rates during rest than people who do not have a furry friend. This was true whether they were at rest or undergoing stress tests. It’s also been proven that children with hypertension lowered their blood pressure while petting their dog. Cute and healthy – we’ll take it!
Sure, therapy, exercise and a job you love are pretty great ways to improve your overall health and well-being. But so is having an animal! Anyone who has come home after a long day, feeling dejected and exhausted is sure to perk up a bit when they find their furry friend, tail a’ waggin’ as they wait for their human to get in the door and pet their head. According to WebMD, “your body actually goes through physical changes in that time that make a difference in your mood. The level of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, is lowered. And the production of serotonin, a chemical associated with well-being, is increased.”
According to The Book of Times: From Seconds to Centuries, a Compendium of Measures by Leslie Alderman, most of us spend about forty minutes a day with our pets. While the amount of money we spend on our pets has increased from 28.5 million in 2001 to 53 million in 2012, that average amount of time has yet to change in recent years. While it isn’t a particularly awful number, it’s something to think about and try to add to every week. Pets completely thrive off of time spent with their owners, and we do too! Studies have shown time after time that the amount of time we spend with our animals equates to better health in us too.