As human beings we are naturally social animals that thrive in relationships with others. A sense of belonging in the world and experiencing social support are key for psychological and physical wellbeing. But can we get our social needs met by the pet pooch? If you have ever had a loving relationship with a four legged friend you may well have experienced a unique relationship with your dog. Having a dog is a social activity – it forces us to get a routine, to get out of the house for walks and invariably on those walks, we meet other dog owners who we may stop and chat with. And when we are feeling low or depressed having a routine and forcing ourselves out of the house may help us to keep hold on a sense of normality and purpose.
In a recent study researchers found that pet owners had higher levels of self-esteem and conscientiousness than non-pet owners, were less fearful and lonely, were less preoccupied and were more extrovert. The authors conclude that pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners.
Following on from this, a new book out, My Dog, my Friend – Heart-warming tales of canine companionship from celebrities and other extraordinary people compiled by Jacki Gordon, celebrates the unique man/dog relationship and the positive impact of our canine friends on our mental health. As the author Julie Myerson puts it “Most of all, when your confidence is at its lowest, when you feel battered – by life, death and (especially) other humans – a dog will shove her nose in your hand and tell you, with conviction and feeling, what a really good person you are.”