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Man's Best Friend

Man's Best Friend

Owning a home is the central component in the fulfillment of the American Dream. Beyond the financial incentives, home ownership is a source of security and stability, and it offers a sense of pride and respect — for the homeowners, for their children, and for extended family and friends.

For some individuals though, a house would not truly be a home unless it was also shared with their beloved family dog.

There are many reasons why dogs have been called man's best friend, and they go far beyond mere appreciation of their madcap antics and exuberant personalities. Their loyalty, intelligence, affection and devotion are extraordinarily rewarding. Having a dog can lift the spirits of their owners and foster a sense of well-being that is unlike anything else.

From walks together around the neighborhood, or being eagerly greeted by a wagging tail at the end of a day, or just relaxing contentedly at home in each other's company, the joys and benefits of having a dog are countless.

Here are several ways in which dogs enrich the lives of their owners:

Dogs Provide Unconditional Love

The love a dog offers to his human family is undying and unconditional. They are always ready to love and be loved. They are willing givers and recipients of all the good that life has to offer and they seem to have an uncanny knack to know exactly what their owners need.

Dogs Promote Better Health

Recent studies show that people who own dogs are usually healthier and happier in their lives than those who don't. People with dogs are more likely to accept change, are better equipped to handle stress, and have fewer appointments with their doctor. It was also found that dog owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and better psychological health than non-dog-owners.

The very act of petting a dog can have a calming effect and like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters that are known to generate a sense of pleasure and well-being.

Dogs Hinder Loneliness

Dogs provide companionship, which means that they can help their owners, particularly those who live by themselves, feel less lonely. In addition, research shows that nursing home residents reported reduced loneliness when visited by dogs than when they spent time with other people. All these benefits can reduce the amount of stress people experience in response to feelings of social isolation and lack of social support.

Dogs are Beneficial to Children

Having a dog in the family can mean a healthier lifestyle for children. Studies have shown that contact with a family dog develops nurturing behavior in children, encouraging them to show empathy and enhance self-esteem. Children who have a dog are also less likely to suffer from feelings of loneliness and isolation.

It has also been proven that children exposed to dogs during the first year of their lives have a lower frequency of allergies and asthma, and owning a dog encourages them to get involved in more social activities. Plus, 70 percent of families surveyed reported an increase in family happiness and fun after adopting a dog.

Dogs Encourage Fitness

Dogs can be a compelling incentive for fitness motivation, if only because most of them need to be walked several times a day. Researchers say dog walking, a low-risk, low-intensity exercise, is perfect for people who want to up their activity level. In one study of more than 2,000 adults, it was reported that dog owners are less likely to be obese than those who don't own dogs at all.

Dogs Promote Social Interaction

When dogs are walked around the block or taken to the park to play, conversation usually ensues. Dogs can be an instant icebreaker, providing a means for people to improve their social skills across the board, especially in terms of interacting with other dog owners. Though some people may have a hard time getting to know each other, dogs can be the common denominator that helps them connect.

Dogs Preserve and Protect

As loyal companions, dogs will guard their owners fiercely when needed. Dogs instinctively sense danger so owners generally feel safer with their canine "early warning" system in place. Due to their territorial nature, dogs are able to warn owners of potential danger and to defend them, if necessary.

Dogs Provide Therapeutic Benefits

A recent study found that in autistic children, levels of stress hormones dropped significantly when a dog became part of the family, and parents reported dramatic improvements in their behavior. These results have encouraged other institutions, including the University of Texas, to launch similar studies into the widening use of "Autism Dogs", a recognized category of Service Dog for the autistic community.

Another therapeutic area where dogs are invaluable is among traumatized military veterans returning from war. They are trained to aid physically disabled veterans, assisting them to retrieve dropped items, open and close doors, turn light switches on or off, carry items, or alerting someone in case of an emergency.

Other dogs are now also being trained specifically for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They become skilled at spotting signs of stress, nervousness or angst, responding by licking, cuddling, or demanding to be petted. The dogs re-focus attention to themselves, coaxing veterans out of their anxiety, and making them aware of their temporary fixation.

A man's best friend? Indeed! For anyone who has never had a dog, it may be hard to understand the joy they bring into a person's life. For those who have dogs, it's hard to imagine life without them.

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