If you are one of the millions of Americans who share your life with one (or more) dogs, it won’t surprise you to hear that the human/dog bond comes with many benefits. But it may surprise you to learn that these benefits can extend to your mind.
That’s right. If you’re looking to boost your brain power, you may not need to look any further than your best four footed friend.
The Mental Benefits of Bonding with Your Dog
Although bonding with your dog won’t raise your IQ, it can bring significant mental benefits. In the long term, dog ownership has been associated with a decreased risk of developing dementia. This is largely because caring for a dog encourages physical activity.
You may be wondering what link being active could have with your mental health. Well, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, “A long-term study of 1,500 adults found that those who were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia in later life.” In addition, those who also had high cholesterol and high blood pressure “had six times the risk of dementia.” In other words, that daily walk is as good for your mind as it is for your body.
Bonding with your dog has also been associated with more immediate mental benefits as well. In fact, it could even improve your job performance. Companies who encourage employees to bring their dogs to work often report increased productivity. According to Steven Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, “Studies have demonstrated that pets in the workplace contribute to stress reduction, as well as employee teamwork and satisfaction. Employees who can bring their pets to work are also more productive.”
A recent article on the Harvard Health Blog noted that a study by the University of British Columbia found that “regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.”
Bonding with your dog also improves your mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
How the Human/Dog Bond Can Help Students Boost Achievement
The benefits of bonding with a dog aren’t limited to adults. Children, especially those with learning or other disabilities, are often able to make great strides with the help of a furry support system.
Some children with autism or other learning difficulties are better able to interact with pets than people. Autistic children often rely on nonverbal cues to communicate, just as pets do. And learning to first connect with a cat or dog, for example, may even help an autistic child in their interactions with people.
Here are some other ways that pets can help children to become successful learners:
- Pets can help children with learning disabilities learn how to regulate stress and calm themselves, making them better equipped to overcome the challenges of their disorder.
- Playing and exercising with a pet can help a child with a learning disability to stay alert and attentive. It can also be a great antidote to the stress and frustration that these children often experience.
One school in Detroit is experiencing firsthand how bonding with a dog can help improve student learning. USA today reports how a therapy dog named Henry has helped autistic students at Novi High School to improve their social interactions and communication.
One student’s mother also reports that, with Henry’s help, her son experiences improved attention span and focus.
How to Experience the Benefits of Bonding With Your Dog
You don’t have to be a student to experience the mental boost of bonding with your dog. After all, couldn’t we all use a little more clarity and focus? Here’s what you can do to experience the benefits of bonding with your tail-wagging friend.
Stay active. The role of regular exercise in supporting brain function is undeniable. Luckily for us who have dogs, we have a built-in daily walk reminder lying at our feet. And you don’t have to stop at walking. If your physical health allows, step it up a notch and really get your blood pumping. Take Fido out for a lively game of fetch, keep-away, or just a good old fashioned romp around the park.
Bond in your down time. Dogs need a lot more than just exercise, and, amazingly enough, time spent petting and cuddling with your pooch is just as good for you as it is for him! The calming effects of this time together may help to lower any anxiety and stress that are interfering with the clarity of your thinking.
Even though bonding with your dog will not turn you into a genius, a clear, calm mind is more likely to be able to learn, remember, and function on a higher level overall.