Have you ever had a day like this? You had a stressful time at work, dealing with deadlines and difficult people. You lost your wallet when you went to pay for coffee, after spilling that all over your dress. The commute home was brutal, and you spent an hour caught in a massive traffic jam.
Then, you walk through the front door and hear the excited sound of four paws sliding toward you. By the time you’ve crossed the threshold, a cuddly ball of fur is standing in front of you, wagging his tail, unable to contain his excitement at your return. In a few minutes, your best friend is sitting on your lap, licking your face, and life seems a lot better.
This scenario may sound like a sappy commercial, but the feelings you experience are real. And now science has weighed in. Dogs are a cure for anxiety and stress.
A number of existing studies have demonstrated the physical benefits of having pets. Now new research published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease proves that dogs specifically help us feel less anxious. The results seem to be particularly persuasive in the case of children.
Researchers conducted a study of 643 children, ages six to seven, all of whom received pediatric primary care in New York. Their parents completed a survey that covered questions about the children’s screen time, diet, physical activity, and whether they owned pets.
Over half the children lived in homes with dogs, and of that 58 percent, only 12 percent exhibited the potential for childhood anxiety. Of the children whose homes did not have dogs, the number rose to a full 21 percent, even factoring in such variables as income and family structure.
The researchers wrote:
Significant differences between groups were found for the separation anxiety component (‘My child is afraid to be alone in the house’) and social anxiety component (‘My child is shy’) favoring pet ownership. Families with pets may be more stable and may be more affluent, but the researchers suggest there’s more to it than that. A pet dog can stimulate conversation, an ice-breaking effect that can alleviate social anxiety via a social catalyst effect.
Although this study proves correlation rather than definitive causation, it is a persuasive argument for adding a canine friend to your household – or cherishing the one you have.