How families, singles benefit from canine friends
Having a pet dog decreases loneliness, improves your mood and increases physical activity.
That is the message from researchers at Sydney University's Charles Perkins Centre and RSPCA NSW, who have found new dog owners have lower levels of loneliness within three months of getting a dog, as well as a reduction in negative moods.
Results were based on a new trial following 71 Sydneysiders over an eight-month period, which compared the mental wellbeing of new dog owners with those who had no intention of getting a dog.
In a YouGov Galaxy Poll conducted for Dogs of Oz, 78 per cent of participants said dogs offered emotional support, while 71 per cent agreed a dog could help you de-stress.
"We have found that dog ownership can improve feelings of loneliness and can help people increase their physical activity," Emmanuel Stamatakis, senior research fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre, said.
"Assuming that is done properly and for the right reasons, the coexistence of dogs and humans can be hugely beneficial for both species.
"Physical activity and dog walking are great examples - dogs can help us humans combat the pandemic of physical inactivity while we serve some of their greatest needs - sensory enrichment through exploring the neighbourhood or local parks and canine physical activity."
He said more Australians lived in cities and were living longer but had fewer interactions with other humans.
"Loneliness is a big - and will become an even bigger - problem in our society," Prof Stamatakis said.
"We know how it can compromise both physical and mental health. For example, chronic loneliness can lead to higher risk of developing heart disease.
"The finding that dog ownership may reduce loneliness is one of the most exciting outcomes of our research.
"Dogs can be a catalyst for more social interactions - two dog owners walking their dogs are a lot more likely to pause and chat to each other than two people without dogs.
"However, owning a dog is a big responsibility. Under no circumstances should anyone go and get a dog only because they think the dog will make them happier or healthier.
"Dog ownership should be a calculated decision that should be, at least partly, based on a genuine desire to care for a dog and share life with them."
With 39 per cent of Australian households owning a dog, the study's lead author, Lauren Powell, said the small trial shed light on potential health benefits of dog ownership.
"Some previous research has shown that human-to-dog interactions can have benefits in settings like nursing homes using therapy dogs; however, there is very little research looking at the impact for everyday dog owners interacting with their dog at home," Ms Powell said.
Willoughby mother-of-four Felicity Hughes said their family's seven-month-old cavoodle, Arlo, had drastically changed their lives - for the better.
"Arlo is active and playful and also loves to lay down and cuddle," Ms Hughes said.
"He always comes up and licks the kids' faces when they are upset and greets us with great excitement when we get home, or even come back into the room.
"He's really made the kids aware that he's depending on them to care for him, he shows us that he gets lonely and so they include him in things - he's teaching them to be reliable and accountable.
"I don't know what we would do without him now. It's been lovely to see how loving and gentle the kids are with him, and he really keeps us all active."