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Courtesy of Coprice.

If you’ve ever owned a dog or cat, this will likely come as no surprise – research shows that time spent interacting with animals is good for our psychological well-being. Well ‘of course’, we hear you say.

Spending as little as 20 minutes with a dog has been shown to help boost mood and reduce anxiety.  And even though they’re not a cure-all for eliminating mental health conditions, there’s evidence to suggest that pets can help alleviate symptoms of depression, help improve feelings of well-being in people suffering from PTSD, and help people feel less lonely.

In this article, we take a look at which aspects of owning a dog will likely help improve your well-being (and which parts might not), and we also look at the flipside… what you can do as a dog owner to help ensure their wellbeing is tip top too.

So, how might owning your beloved pooch boost your happiness?

First, let’s get the lingo right…. when talking about happiness and well-being, psychologists split it into 2 main parts: 1. Hedonism is where there is the general presence of good things but the absence of bad things (i.e. pleasure but not pain); and 2. Eudaimonism is essentially living a life that has purpose and meaning. To break this down a bit more, eudaimonism includes things such as self-acceptance, positive relations with others, personal growth and a sense of purpose.

But how can owning a dog help with these?

A British study found that owning a dog can help us in lots of ways. In terms of hedonistic happiness, people reported that owning a dog increased happiness full stop. Because dogs are so often playful, joyful and seem to possess that zen-like ability to just BE in the moment… and because they frequently do silly things that make us laugh, they make us happy. Pretty simple really.

Beyond that, from a eudemonic happiness point of view, dogs’ unwavering loyalty and non-judgmental devotion to us help nurture our feelings of self-acceptance. And because (come rain, hail or shine) dogs want to get outside and go walking, their owners have to get outside and go walking too. Beyond the obvious physical and happy-hormone-inducing benefits we get from exercise, this need to take the dog for a walk also gives people a feeling of purpose. Another lovely by-product is that lots of dog walkers end up chatting with other dog walkers, which ticks the ‘positive relations with others’ happiness box.

But it’s not all roses in dog ownership land. There are some aspects of owning a dog that can tip the happiness scales the other way. Canines cost money and have demands their owners need to meet… and people tend to feel pretty bad if they can’t look after their dogs as well as they think they should. Other factors that can reduce the happiness quotient are if the dog has health or behavioural problems. No surprises there.

But on the whole, dogs do improve our wellbeing. The next question is, what can we do to improve theirs?

The basics of caring for a dog include providing love and attention, good nutrition, training and a safe, suitable living environment. Of course, dogs also need correct veterinary care. But for dogs, some important facets of well-being also include socialisation and stimulation.

Dogs are social beings. They need opportunities to regularly get out and about, and meet other dogs and people. Getting them used to a range of situations and environments, and allowing them to interact with other dogs and people is integral to their development and ongoing joy.

Dogs also need exposure to varied stimuli because, just like us, not getting enough exercise or stimulation has been linked with higher rates of anxiety and depression in dogs. Taking walks to new places and letting your dog stop and smell the smells (providing all-important olfactory stimuli) can help elevate their happy factor.

Dogs and humans have evolved side-by-side for tens of thousands of years. Dogs cherish us in a way few other species do. They undoubtedly enrich our lives, and it’s important that – in the spirit of kindness and reciprocity – we do all we can to ensure our dogs are happy, fulfilled, well beings too.