14 Days of Love Day 10: Barking Through a Window: The Value of Dogs in the Lives of Humans

Allison Gould, Print Editor-in-Chief

After a long day at school or work, they are always there, staring at you through the window or listening to your footsteps as you approach the front door, wagging their tails in anticipation. When you finally crack open the door, your dog(s) jump on you and smother you with kisses, displaying their undying love and loyalty for you. The bond that people create with their dogs provides a sense of companionship unlike any other and leaves a lasting impact. 

The presence of a dog, whether owning one as a pet or just petting one, has significant health benefits. According to a study in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, when humans and dogs have positive interactions, both the dog and the human experience a surge of oxytocin. This chemical is often referred to as the “love drug” and is related to empathy, relationship-building, trust and social bonding; thus, the boost that comes from interacting with dogs improves psychological well-being. In addition — according to the Patient Empowerment Network — the oxytocin and companionship that dogs provide reduce anxiety and other mental illnesses. 

Although dogs influence oxytocin levels, there are various other chemicals in the brain that prove how relationships with dogs benefit humans. A Johns Hopkins Medicine paper indicates that simply petting a dog reduces people’s cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone in the human body. Additionally, when the body undergoes a period of high stress, blood pressure increases, but studies show that people who have dogs as pets experience lower blood pressure in stressful situations compared to those without pets. Furthermore, other studies show that dogs increase dopamine and serotonin production, leading to a greater sense of happiness and calmness. 

While dogs play a vital role in improving a person’s mental state, dogs also have positive effects on one’s physical state. As mentioned, blood pressure is associated with stress, which is also connected to heart health. Thus, lowered blood pressure around dogs leads to a healthier heart, too. Furthermore, having a dog — a naturally active pet — will motivate you to become more active by encouraging you to take daily walks and play outside with them. According to the American Kennel Club, there is a strong connection between walking your dog and maintaining and achieving high levels of physical activity. 

Overall, dogs are irreplaceable best friends that bring mental and physical health benefits to human lives.