Almost 12 years ago my husband and I went for a visit to the Dogs Trust in West Calder, just to have a 'look' and find out more about what the Dogs Trust did. The Dogs Trust is an amazing organisation, rehoming dogs of all types and ages and once you have seen the dogs there, and discovered more about why they need a new home, I would argue it's almost impossible to leave without seriously thinking about taking one with you - and that’s exactly what we did. As it was mid-December, and close to Christmas, their policy at that time was that if we wanted a puppy we would have to take it home almost immediately, otherwise we would have to wait until late-January. After a quickly arranged home visit, and being given the all clear that we were suitable owners, two days later we went back to pick up a lively wee puppy named Silent Night. All puppies which had come into the Dog Trust that December had Christmas themed names! I know it's frowned upon to give a dog for Christmas, but our kids have said that she was the best present we've ever given them. We thought we were just giving in to the years of pleading and nagging and didn’t realise quite how much an important part of the family our new puppy, who we called Millie, would become.
Companionship is one of the main reasons people own dogs, they can become your best friend and companion, always pleased to see you and never (or very rarely) in a bad mood. Whether you have a small child or teenager they can be friend, confidant and companion, never judging and always loving. Sharing your life with one can also be among the best things you do for your own and your family’s physical and emotional health and well-being.
There have been various studies which show that there are many life enhancing benefits of dog ownership:
Just the presence of a dog by your side has the affect of reducing anxiety. While friends and family mean well, human relationships can bring stress. Owning a well-behaved dog, which we have been lucky enough to do, however, provides a real opportunity to relax – whether that is patting, stroking or going for a long walk together.
Taking your dog for a walk can give you the opportunity to meet and chat to new people. Dogs are brilliant conversation starters and it’s easy to get chatting with fellow dog walkers or just people admiring your new puppy! This increased sociability is proven to help your mental health and improve happiness.
Having a dog can enhance your child’s life. Caring for a pet helps children develop empathy and on a more practical level having a dog in the home also boosts children’s immune system and can reduce the risk of developing allergies.
Owning a dog encourages people to increase their exercise. A dog needs a daily walk and this forces you to go out in all weathers It has been shown that regular exercise, positively affects your overall health, such as improving your heart, your brain, your obesity risk and overall wellness. Another surprising benefit of owning a dog is helping people with dementia. Animal-based therapy is becoming popular in residential care homes because stroking a pet has been shown to decrease agitated behaviours and increase social interaction in patients with dementia. Touch is one of the last senses to be affected by the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, so stroking a pet can bring enormous pleasure. From personal experience my dad loved it when we took Millie to visit when he was in the later stages of dementia, and he would visibly relax and be more content when she was around.
Having a pet has been proven to improve your mood, triggering your brain to release chemicals linked to happiness and lowering your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and research has shown that people who brought their dogs to work had lower stress levels throughout the day.
All the above benefits become obvious once you have welcomed a dog into your home, however the unconditional love that a dog gives can't be measured. They come into your home and become an integral part of your family, offering a lifetime of support, love and friendship. While having a dog is a significant responsibility, the mutual benefits are too many to count. Getting a dog was one of the best things we did as a family and I can’t recommend it enough.
Rachel Mackay -