The Canine Companion

What is it about furry animals that makes us gather in hoards to purchase them and take them to our homes? What is it about animals that makes us become their daily friends? What is is it about animals that makes us spend thousands of our hard-earned dollars of them? Some think it’s their cuteness; some think it’s their ability to cheer us up.

Well, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, having a pet has nearly identical benefits to having friends (About.Psychology.com). Specifically, in several questionnaires given by this group, those participants with pets tended to record higher self-esteem and lower loneliness values. Additionally, several pet owners related having a pet to decreased depression and stress. Seems like a great deal, no?

Having a pet myself, I can vouch for all this. I know this sounds cliche, but there really is nothing better than coming home from a stressful day at school (thank God finals are over) and seeing your puppy grinning up at you without a care in the world. Honestly, being at school eight classes a day is extremely depressing, and because of it, I have next to no social life. My puppy, Sophie, is essentially the extent of my social life beyond school. Without friends to socialize with, I have nowhere else to turn. Surely Sophie keeps me sane.

Also according to this study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, subjects said that their pets were better listeners than their own spouses were. Pets help alleviate many of the troubles of communication, such as a lack of listeners. As a personal example, when I get home tired from school, no one in my family wants to listen to me rant about how rotten my day went. Sophie however, is perfectly content to lie on the floor, cock her head slightly to one side, and listen, all the while gnawing away at a rawhide bone. But besides me, pets also help disable or mentally challenged children, such as those with autism, to communicate. Dogs in particular can help autistic children develop necessary social skills. Sonia Lupen, a researcher at Université de Montréal Department of Psychiatry, was a leader of an experiment that measured the effects of having pets on autistic children. Particularly, researchers asked autistic children and their families about behaviorally problematic incidents that occurred before and after the family got a pet. Usually, the number declined. Also, these researchers measured the incidence of cortisol, a stress indicator, in the childrens’ saliva before, during, and after having a dog in order to determine whether dogs really did reduce the stress levels of autistic children.

“Introducing service dogs to children with ASD has received growing attention in recent decades,” says Lupien. “Until now, no study has measured the physiological impact. Our results lend support to the potential behavioural benefits of service dogs for autistic children.”

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