In today’s Wall Street Journal, Susan Pinker shares the results of a 2019 study led by Lauren Powell, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. The study looked at whether getting a dog improved the owner’s activity level, cardiovascular health, and psychological state.
On the physical side, owning a dog did not seem to do much for the activity level or cardiovascular health of the dog owners. The results showed that after three months, people with dogs walked 2,589 more steps a day than the control groups. “But at eight months there was a drop-off, so the difference was no longer significant,” said Dr. Powell, speculating that “people were really excited at first, but maybe the novelty wore off.”
However, dog ownership seemed to have a positive effect on the psychological health of the owners. The researchers found that the loneliness in the group that got a dog decreased by 40% and stayed at that lower level at eight months, according to Dr. Powell.
But how exactly do dogs make us happier? In a previous study, Dr. Powell’s group had shown that owning a dog promotes the flow of oxytocin, a hormone that decreases our heart rate and fosters feelings of well-being and relaxation. Plus, she adds, dogs “encourage their owners to get out in nature, maintain a sense of routine, and stay in touch with their neighbors. All the things that benefit our mental health in normal times are just more important during Covid.”
As a dog owner, that’s great news.
But I think a more interesting study, but certainly more challenging, would be to measure the happiness level of a dog once it becomes part of a household. I would hypothesize that its oxytocin levels explode, and have only gotten higher during COVID…
Talk about a symbiotic relationship…