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We know dogs as humans’ best friend, but they can also boost our well-being. According to an estimate by the ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), there are 78 million pet dogs in the United States.

Dogs are thought to have been domesticated 20,000-40,000 years ago. Historically they have been used to guard our houses, cattle and other personal belongings. Over time, dogs have also been trained for hunting and bred for elegance and beauty.

We, however, know dogs to be a truly valued companion–for their loyalty and ability to make us smile. There are many studies that suggest that having pet dogs is associated with better health.

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Medical News Today reported last year that a person’s risk of premature death is reduced by up to a third by owning a dog. In addition, dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease as suggested by researchers at Harvard University.

Wonder why? Although it is difficult to establish a true causal relationship between better health and dog ownership, the benefits appear to be due to lifestyle adjustments that dog owners tend to make after getting a dog.

The most obvious lifestyle change is exercise.  A dog owner has to commit to twice, or even more, daily walks.  In fact, the time spent walking our dog may actually be enough to meet the World Health Organization’s recommended 150 minutes/week of moderate physical activity.

Also, last year, research was published that suggested that children who were exposed to dogs before birth (while mom was around dogs while pregnant) had a reduced risk of eczema in early childhood.  Children also experienced a reduction of asthma symptoms when exposed to certain bacteria carried by dogs.

Sharing our home life with a dog makes us feel good instantly. Dogs cheer us up even after a hard day when we are greeted with enthusiasm by a canine companion.

Oxytocin–a hormone largely responsible for social bonding–increases when we interact with dogs. This elevates our psychological well-being.

Depressive symptoms appear to be reduced by dogs, thereby making us more stress resilient.  Because of this, dogs are often used for therapy.

Unfortunately, dogs can also take on some of our human diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, and dementia. Despite this, we continue to welcome them into our lives as the joy and pleasure they give to us is immense.

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