Anyone who comes to CrossFit Frederick more than once has met Zeus. There is no question that Zeus has a pretty sweet life and enjoys coming to the box to get attention, but I think it is just as enjoyable for many of us at the box when he is there. While he is not our dog, he holds a special place in many of our hearts. Zeus provides comedy, distraction and comfort while we work out. When stretching at the end of the WOD and Zeus picks you to paw at and get attention over others begging for him to come to them, you feel special. The benefits of dog ownership have been studied countlessly, but in regards to our health both physically and mentally the evidence is overwhelmingly positive.
A Harvard Health Publication reported a one year study that found walking an overweight dog helped both the animals and their owners lose weight. Researchers found that the dogs provided support in ways similar to a human exercise buddy, but with greater consistency and less negative influence. Public housing residents who walk therapy dogs for up to 20 minutes five days a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds in a year, with no changes to their diets. Another study found that people walked 30 minutes more per week than they did before they had a dog.
Recently with rucking, my dog Skunk gets so excited when we do anything with the gear, get out our boots or even say the word, that we find ourselves taking him out even when we had no intention of rucking that day. HIs enjoyment and excitement while walking pushes us to go further, dig deeper and enjoy the rucks that much more.
More than weight loss and increased exercise, dogs offer benefits in other areas of your health that may surprise you. Service dogs are trained to respond to their owners needs and alert them before seizures, diabetic emergencies, and more. However, even dogs that are not specially trained have been known to sense things about their human companions and also provide medical benefit to being around. If you’re over 65 and own a pet, odds are you seek medical help about 30 percent less often than people who don’t have a pet. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology established that animal-owning seniors on Medicare “reported fewer doctor contacts over the 1-year period than respondents who did not own pets.” And while cats, birds, and other animals were helpful, “Owners of dogs, in particular, were buffered from the impact of stressful life events on physician utilization.” Alzheimer’s patients are soothed by dogs, whose companionship also seems to mitigate emotional flare-ups and aggression.
Dogs are not only beneficial for the adults in the family. Besides the sheer joy a dog can offer a child, there are other benefits for the little people in the family as well. Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having a dog or cat. Unlike parents or teachers, pets are never critical and don’t give orders. They are always loving and their mere presence at home can help provide a sense of security in children. Having an ever-present pet can help ease separation anxiety in children when mom and dad aren’t around. Having the love and companionship of a pet can make a child feel important and help them develop a positive self-image. Kids who are emotionally attached to their pets are better able to build relationships with other people. Studies have also shown that pets can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive kids. Of course, both the animal and the child need to be trained to behave appropriately with each other.
Children and adults alike can benefit from playing with pets, which can provide a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body. Playing with a pet can even be a doorway to learning for a child. It can stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity. The rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the importance of perseverance. Spending just a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and wellbeing. People performing stressful tasks do better when there’s a dog around, too, and studies show dogs ease tension both at the office and between married couples. There are actually universities that bring in dogs for students to interact with between exams to lower stress and improve performance.
Another benefit of adding a pup into your life is your sense of safety or well being. Dogs can be an effective home security system. Studies show that barking dogs deter burglars. Just knowing that you’ve got a dog who can use its keen sense of hearing to detect anyone prowling around can help increase your sense of security, which is good for both your mental and physical health. If you want to go for a late night walk/run having a dog by your side may deter unwanted attention or possibly prevent a crime. Even the smallest dogs can bark, bite and have a good sense of other people’s intentions or demeanors.
Not in a place where you can own a dog yourself? No problem. Many shelters are looking for volunteers to take the dogs currently looking for homes out on walks. This socializes the dog, and prevents anxiety and/or other destructive behaviors. This may be a good option if you seek some canine companionship, but are not in a situation that allows you to have your own.