I’ve never sat on the psychiatrist’s couch, but I reckon that whispering my worries into the velvety soft ears of our oldest dog, Tigger, is probably the best free therapy session in the world. She lies next to me, listening but never judging. She doesn’t mind me wallowing in self-pity, or roll her eyes at my self-doubt. She doesn’t dismiss my fears or criticise my mistakes. She gives no unwanted advice. Her calm, steady breathing; soft, warm fur; and unconditional love soothe my anxious mind and lighten my load.
Our other dogs are younger, more mischievous, and make me laugh out loud every day. One managed to turn the kettle on while scouring the kitchen worktop for food the other day (he’s a big dog, he also gets stuck under the kitchen table sometimes, and frightens himself by knocking things over when he turns around). Another will spend ages chasing her own tail or attempting to catch birds as they fly way overhead. It’s no wonder the internet is filled with adorable animal memes – they make everyone’s day brighter.
There’s nothing quite like coming home to a wagging tail or snuggling on the sofa with a furry friend, and enthusiastic cuddles from excitable puppies are the best tonic I know when I’m feeling low. Scientific research backs up what pet owners like me already know: pets are good for your mind, body and soul.
As if anyone needed an excuse to love dogs, here are my top ten reasons why they are so awesome:
1. It’s official: dogs cheer you up – according to a study in Japan, all dog owners need to do to boost their levels of oxytoxin (one of our ‘happy’ hormones) is look their beloved pooch in the eyes. Dogs bring joy to other people too – through organisations like Pets As Therapy, they visit people in need and bring a smile to patients in children’s wards and hospices, and residents in nursing homes.
2. A dog will help you keep fit – dogs need daily walks and that means dog owners get regular exercise out in the fresh air.
3. Dogs can lower your blood pressure – stroking a pet eases stress, and scientific studies have shown that both cat and dog ownership have a beneficial effect on blood pressure and reduce the risk of a heart attack.
4. Living with dogs can reduce allergies – thanks to the dirt and bacteria that pets inevitably bring into the home, people who live with animals tend to develop stronger immune systems. This extra protection starts before a child is even born, and research from Canada shows that children who grow up with dogs have lower rates of asthma.
5. Dogs can help combat loneliness – looking after a dog, or any pet, provides companionship and can give a lonely person a reason to get up each day.
6. Dogs make great teachers – reading dogs are increasingly being brought into primary schools. They provide a friendly audience for children to read to, with no fear of mistakes being pointed out. This helps children build confidence and literary skills.
7. Dogs are brilliant practical helpers – assistance dogs transform people’s lives. They can be trained to help with all sorts of practical tasks: helping their owner get dressed, loading and unloading the washing machine, opening doors and picking up the phone. They give people with disabilities the chance to live an independent life.
8. Dogs save lives – medical detection dogs use their canine superpower - their incredible sense of smell - to identify cancer and alert people with diabetes to dangerous blood sugar levels. Seizure response dogs protect people with epilepsy by raising the alarm and lying next to their owner, or even breaking their fall to prevent injury. There are numerous life-saving jobs that dogs do: from search dogs that help find missing walkers in the mountains to detection dogs that sniff out landmines in war zones to marine rescue dogs that can drag up to 12 people safely to shore in one go!
9. Dogs boost productivity at work – bringing a dog into the workplace can reduce stress, create opportunities for short breaks, generate a warmer, friendlier atmosphere, and help with team bonding – all of which make for a more productive work day.
10. A dog is the perfect soul mate – a shoulder to cry on, a best friend to play with, a clown and a confidante: a dog will bring joy into your life and will never judge you or spill your secrets.
We’ve got five dogs in our house, and five people, so there’s plenty of puppy love to go around. Admittedly, we’ve lost a few shoes and wellies - chewed beyond recognition by rascally puppies; holidays cost more as we have to pay for kennels; and let’s be honest, no-one enjoys clearing up the dog poo. But they’re part of the family, and without them I think we’d all be a bit more stressed and a lot less happy.