The joy of dogs

There’s a reason they are called man’s best friend, so if you yearn for a devoted companion who can improve your quality of life and make you smile, what are you waiting for?

Who in your close network of friends or family could be relied on to stick by your side through thick and thin, not question any of your decisions, and be thrilled to see you even when you’re in a grumpy mood? Oh, and do their utmost to make you smile every single day of their life?

Dogs, man’s best friend, come in all shapes, sizes and personalities: from leggy great danes and slinky afghan hounds to squashy-faced pugs and wire-haired terriers. However varied their appearance, they all share one thing: each and every one of them has the capacity to make us happier and healthier.

Owning a dog is a huge responsibility and a long-term commitment, so no one should ever decide to give a dog a home on a whim. If you’re not prepared to stretch their legs and yours, every day – on dark, cold and wet winter mornings as well as when the sun’s shining brightly – then perhaps it’s not for you.

But there’s nothing like an enthusiastic hound, wagging its tail excitedly, to winkle you out of your bed every morning and into the park. And what a wonderful way to start each day. As others press their snooze buttons or pull the covers over their heads, you could be watching the sun rise over the sea, listening to birdsong in the woods or, in the calm and peace of the morning, planning your day ahead.

Take a dog for two 30-minute walks a day, striding at an average speed, and in the course of a year you will have covered 1,095 miles – the equivalent of walking from London to Inverness and back.

Over a dog’s lifetime, you will have easily walked halfway around the world. It’s no wonder then that new dog owners often quickly see an improvement in their cardiovascular fitness and develop stronger muscles and bones as a result of regular low-impact exercise.

The benefits of walking are well documented and include reducing the risk of chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, heart disease and stroke. The Stroke Association claims a brisk 30-minute walk every day helps to prevent and control the high blood pressure that causes strokes, reducing the risk by up to 27 per cent.

It is not just energetic walks that will improve your health, even stroking a pet has a beneficial effect. Your heart beats more slowly and as a result your blood pressure drops, which in turn can decrease stress and reduce tension. Research suggests that looking after a dog can lower levels of cholesterol and blood triglycerides, which are risk factors for heart disease. Dog owners visit the doctor significantly less than those who don’t share their home with a pet, and also complain less about minor ailments such as headaches and colds.

All bark and no bite

Nothing helps you wind down more than a dog, especially one who’s eager to please. Worries tend to evaporate if you have to throw yourself into a game of tug or chuck a ball about for a keen playmate. The rapturous welcome that awaits you when you open your front door – regardless of whether you’ve been gone two hours or two minutes – is heartwarming.

Add to all that the joy of spending time outdoors in the fresh air, discovering scenic walking routes you may not even have known were on your doorstep, and your overall wellbeing will be given a daily boost. Chances are, you’ll sleep more soundly too.

Another endearing thing about sharing your life with a dog is the fact it will never criticise or correct you. Your dog thinks you’re great, and it’ll go all out to give you unconditional love and affection that you are unlikely to find in many other relationships in life.

Dogs can alleviate feelings of loneliness, boredom and depression. Being responsible for any pet adds structure and routine to your day, it gives you a purpose. Dogs are completely dependent on their owners to feed and walk them, and keep them safe and warm. Who better to make you feel important and wanted?

Children who grow up with a dog learn about the daily responsibility associated with feeding, exercising and caring, as well as how to deal with illness and loss. These are valuable life lessons.

Most dogs are sociable creatures, and when they set off to introduce themselves to other dogs will also draw you into a new network of human acquaintances. Television presenter Davina McCall met her husband while out walking her dog. Ask anyone who’s ever moved home and found themselves in an unfamiliar setting. Within no time a dog walker will soon have cultivated quite an extended acquaintance. A cheery hello then becomes a longer chat and before long you’ve a friendship on your hands. Remember to ask the owner’s name early on though. Years can otherwise pass only ever knowing a person as ‘Alfie’s owner’ or ‘the lady who walks Monty’.

  • Words: Lorna Cowan
  • Photographs: Shutterstock
  • Article originally from issue 4 of Breatheorder here