Who’s a good doggie? New dog owners benefit from cuddles, meeting other dog owners and more physical exercise. In other words, they really can chase away loneliness – and this is backed by scientific research.
Feeling lonely? A dog may help. Our research confirms what many dog owners already know: dogs are great companions that can help you to feel less lonely. Cuddles and slobbery kisses, meeting other dog owners in the park and a general lift in mood all likely help.
But our study, published this week in BMC Public Health, found dogs didn’t affect psychological distress, the type seen in depression and anxiety.
Why are we studying this?
Almost two in five Australian households own a dog. And although most dog owners will assure you, in no uncertain terms, their dog is a source of sheer happiness, scientific evidence is lacking.
Most previous studies have compared the mental well-being of dog owners to non-owners at a single point in time. The problem with these studies is they cannot tell if dogs actually make us happier, less lonely or less stressed. They also cannot tell us if dog owners are simply in a more positive state of mind in the first place.
So, in this study, we measured mental well-being at three points in time: before owning a dog, three months after owning a dog and eight months after owning a dog.
What did we do?
Our study, known as the PAWS trial, involved 71 Sydney adults who were separated into three groups:
- people who bought a dog within one month of starting the study
- people who were interested in getting a dog in the near future but agreed not to get one during the study, and
- people who had no interest in getting a dog.
People filled out surveys to measure their mood, loneliness and symptoms of psychological distress at the three different time-points. We then compared the mental well-being of the groups at the beginning of the study, to the mid-point and to the end-point.
Here’s what we found
New dog owners felt less lonely after they got a dog compared to the other two groups. The effect happened quite quickly, within three months of acquiring a dog. There was no further decrease in loneliness between three months and eight months.