Nature’s Anger Cure: Furry Critters

By Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Numerous studies show that dog owners obtain health benefits those without pets can only envy.  Dog owners have better cholesterol levels, improved immune systems, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart attacks.  Some dogs can detect the onset of seizures and sniff out a hypoglycemic attack.  We all see service dogs helping the blind and those with other physical limitations.  Dog owners get more exercise than those without pets.  Who can resist a panting pup leaping and tail wagging for a chance to go outside and play!

Teens with anger management problems showed improved mood and had more positive outcomes when dogs were included in group therapy.  Children raised with pets learn more pro-social behaviors like helping others, empathy and responsibility.  Dogs help children with autism relate with others and communicate better.  Kids exposed to pets in the first year of life have fewer allergies and are less likely to develop asthma.  Seniors who own pets attend 21% fewer physician visits than non-dog owners and they show better social and health outcomes.

Dog ownership reduces loneliness, an anger trigger for some people.  Those who are able to bond emotionally with a pet are less likely to behave cruelly toward a person.  Cruelty to animals highly correlates with violent behavior toward people.  Those who abuse animals are more likely to suffer from psychological disorders and commit other crimes including rape and property crimes.

Of course pet ownership brings many frustrating moments.  They make messes,  bark loudly, and make embarrassing grabs at the legs of our guests.  Dogs, like children, need us to teach them how to behave.  I recommend the site Love Your Dog for great dog training tips and videos. Even if you’re more of a dog yeller than a dog whisperer, you can still enjoy the anger reduction benefits of dog ownership.   Benefits include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Enhanced joy
  • Increased exercise
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness
  • Improved mood
  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure

As I grumble about cleaning up my senior Golden Retriever’s mess on the carpet, I look into her sweet, cataract-coated eyes and smile.  She looks embarrassed about her accident.  After all she’s an old girl, far too mature for peeing in the house.  The thyroid medicine she’s on disrupts her system.  I’ve scheduled another visit to the vet for more tests.  I sit down to read a book.  She plops her head on my lap.  We make eye-contact again.  As I pet her velvety fur I feel warm, relaxed and comforted.

If you wish to obtain the benefits of dog ownership consider a local animal shelter or pet rescue center.  Best Friends Animal Sanctuary does great work.  They rescued thousands of animals after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, documented in the wonderful book Pawprints of Katrina.  Furry critters remind us to slow down to the pace of nature.  Rescue a pup’s life and you might save your own.