It’s no secret that the human heart is easily swayed by floppy ears and wet noses: we dig dogs. Their playfulness, their acceptance, their dedication to us that rivals even the most enthusiastic stalkers, we love our furry family members and they love us right back.
This is nothing new – the canine/human relationship is well documented throughout history. When people domesticated dogs, a symbiotic relationship formed. We relied on them to hunt and they relied on us for safety and shelter.
Fast forward thousands of years and we no longer need dogs to provide – we get our food from GrubHub, not German Shepherds. But this hasn’t severed the relationship; rather, it’s made it stronger. Dogs are no longer our business partners: they’re our BFFs.
But why is this? What is it about our four-legged friends that grabs us? Why are these pets so perfect for our souls?
How Hormones Play a Role
It’s easy to blame everything on hormones (ahem, the teenage years), yet hormones aren’t just scapegoats: they play a vital role in how we feel. With dogs, oxytocin – a “feel good” hormone – is the most important chemical; it’s released when dogs and humans connect, flooding each species with feelings of happiness. This is one of the factors bonding us to these beasts.
A Purposeful Pet
Dogs also give us purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning (besides coffee). They get us up and get us moving and get us out the door, leash in hand. And they give us cause for coming home – whether you’ve been at work for eight hours or at the mailbox for eight seconds, your tail-wagging welcome committee is at the door to greet you.
Of course, dogs rely on us for their care and that helps the soul as well. Humans have an innate need to be needed. And pets need us, a lot.
A Focus on Decency
Dogs encapsulate a potent decency, perhaps better than any other species. While there are mean dogs or aggressive dogs or those that love to rip out the stairs when they don’t get enough exercise, dogs react on instinct or past trauma, not malice – they don’t have the capacity to know right from wrong.
What they do know is unconditional love – in fact, they’re famous for it. Owning them gives us #squadgoals. Want to be an awesome person? Then act like your dog.
A Longer Life?
Studies have suggested that owning a pet extends your life. Dogs, especially, help their owners go the distance by reducing risk of death (from all causes) by 24%. This benefit is most acute in people with heart conditions, likely because of the exercise demands of our canine compadres.
But it goes beyond working out. Dogs help with loneliness and stress management – they offer a furry shoulder to cry on during hard times. And they do wonders for our self-esteem – we stroke behind their ears or under their chins and they stroke us right back. Only they aim for our egos.
Our dogs see us as the funniest, smartest, best looking humans on the planet. Eventually, we start to see ourselves a little bit like that too. And that offers fodder for our well-being.
Yep, dogs are good for our souls – one of the best things around. Chicken soup? It’s got nothing on them.