“Happiness is a warm puppy,” according to Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. It turns out that science has proven him right; research has revealed that owning a dog offers many concrete benefits, including positive impacts on physical, mental, and emotional health.
Splendido, an all-inclusive community for those 55 and better in Oro Valley, is a pet-friendly community where residents and their dogs can be seen taking daily walks or heading to the community’s dog park. Among them is a 164-pound American mastiff named Rebekah, who moved to Splendido in 2015 along with Kenneth and Daria Outwater. “I’ve had 50-plus years of dogs, and Rebekah is a very positive influence in our lives,” says Kenneth.
Dogs Can Keep You Physically Active
One obvious benefit of having a dog is that it keeps you active. Walking a dog ensures regular physical activity—a key component in staying healthy and independent, boosting mood, and even benefiting the brain. It can also keep you social, as you meet others along your route.
Every morning, Kenneth, along with fellow residents Don Sullivan and Bill Tausch, take their dogs for a walk in the desert outside Splendido—what Kenneth calls “the south 40.”
Don says, “Taking [my two dogs] out every day helps me with my exercise. We wouldn’t get that level of walking if we didn’t have the dogs.”
“Having a dog sets the day. It’s a good routine,” says Kenneth. Bill agrees, saying that between the morning walk and several other timed outings throughout the day with his greyhound Star, he gets plenty of walking in. “And woe to him who is 10 minutes late for the 4:00 p.m. walk,” he adds.
Dogs Can Brighten Your Mood
People are hard-wired for connection, and research has proven that simply petting a dog can increase oxytocin levels, a hormone that lowers blood pressure, helps reduce fear and anxiety, and improves alertness.
Don and his wife Teri enjoy the companionship of their Brittanies, Cody and Shadow. “They give you some comfort just because they’re loving and obedient,” says Don. “They’re constant companions, and having them around just makes life very nice.”
Bill and Marianne Tausch adopted Star nearly eight years ago. “I do tend to feel a calmness that happens when you’re around a dog,” says Bill. “I’d say that our lives are fuller having her.”
Dogs Can Keep You Alert & Engaged
Petting a dog or cat also strengthens sensations such as touch, which diminish with age. Something as simple as touching a pet exercises utility and sustains psychological well-being by stimulating the senses each day. Studies have shown that people also exhibit improved alertness when caring for a pet. Pets help prevent or reduce absent-mindedness by providing a sense of time and helping to maintain a rhythm to the day.
“It keeps you a little more sensitive,” says Kenneth. “As you learn to read the dog, you can apply that to other areas in your life.” Regarding Rebekah in particular, he says, “A dog like this provides focus, and forces you out of yourself, so your focus turns outward instead of inward. I think that’s a good thing at this age.”