Friends With Benefits: Can Dogs Boost Self-Esteem?

Dogs for your health?

There are no dogs allowed on Corn Hill Beach in Truro from 9-6 in summer. Still, under the sparkling sun yesterday, there they were, the Labradoodles and the terriers, the Dalmations and Golden Retrievers, frolicking in the surf, oblivious to their illegal acts. Their owners, too, appeared oblivious: “Why would anyone ban dogs from the beach?” said one tanned, fit owner throwing a tennis ball to his chocolate lab, Sophie. “I just don’t understand, how can anyone not love dogs?”

Admittedly, I’m not a pet person, and I can think of many reasons dogs should be cleared from a beach teeming with babies and seniors on a hot July day. But based on a new study, “Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership,” published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it appears I’m probably not as well-adjusted as Sophie’s owner, and the millions of other “everyday people,” who are neither sick nor needy, but still consider their pets the best companion they’ll ever have.

The study details earlier research showing pets can indeed help people with specific ailments and illnesses. For instance, the paper says, “research shows that pet owners are less likely to die within 1 year of having a heart attack than those who do not own pets.” Moreover, the authors report: “lonely people are often advised to get a dog or a cat to alleviate social isolation, and even U.S. President Harry Truman purportedly said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” But in these new experiments, researchers suggest that you don’t have to be needy or suffering from a medical condition to benefit from a cat or dog. Continue reading