Life

Walking A Dog Can Help You Feel Less Lonely And Isolated

They just want to be around you.
"Oh hai. Please walk me and then give me all the treats."
"Oh hai. Please walk me and then give me all the treats."

Welcome to HuffPost Canada’s (almost) daily guide to helping you pick up an easy, everyday ritual that can make your life a bit better, in a small but significant way.

Canadians are stressed out, anxious, and are feeling disconnected from each other. Every Monday through Friday, we’ll share a tiny tip to help you feel good. We’ve got your back.

Today’s habit: Walk a dog!

For whenever you’re feeling: Like you need some fresh air; like you want some exercise; like you want to discover a new part of your ’hood; like you’re in the mood for some sweet doggy affection.

What it is: If you don’t have your own pooch, ask a friend/relative/neighbour to borrow their doggo for an hour or two, or sign up to be a dog walker on the various apps out there and make a little extra cash.

Then, go for a walking adventure! Hit up a trail, a dog park, or take a leisurely walk in the neighbourhood.

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How it can help: I’m going to be honest with you, dear reader. I own a pug (Rosie, if you’re reading this, I love you), and I can attest firsthand about the benefits of pet ownership, benefits which have been documented pretty thoroughly.

We know that having a pet can reduce stress, improve heart health, keep you active, improve your social life, reduce loneliness, and add meaning to your life. But not everyone can have a dog, whether it’s because they don’t have the time, can’t afford one, or just don’t want the responsibility.

So if you don’t have a dog but are yearning to be around one just for a little while, don’t give up! Walking a dog for an hour even just once a week can have surprising benefits.

Here are some ways walking a dog can be good for you:

1. It helps you connect with nature

Walking a dog forces you to go outside, so why not take advantage of that and hit up a trail or park? Studies show that being around nature can increase your sense of well-being, as well as reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stress, and high blood pressure.

Not to mention, you get to watch a dog enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells (mmm, dog pee!) of the outdoors, which is fun on its own.

2. It can manage your stress

Just being around dogs has been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol, and it’s no wonder: they’re so calming and loveable.

We’re not talking about a tiny blip of stress relief; canines are such huge stress-busters that service dogs have been used to help people manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

And it goes without saying that physical activity (yep, a leisurely stroll with a dog counts as exercise) also boosts your mood and reduces stress.

We love you, you majestic, mighty creature.
We love you, you majestic, mighty creature.

3. You meet likeminded people

As someone who has been walking my dog every day for the past six years, I can tell you that I’ve met so many lovely people I never would have met had I not had a pug, and some of them have even become my friends.

But you don’t have to become BFFs with every dog owner out there; just meeting another dog walker makes you feel like you belong to an exclusive club. See that person walking towards you with a Great Dane on a leash? You’ll definitely get a head nod. And sometimes that little hint of recognition is all you need to feel good.

4. You feel less lonely

Part of the reason I started writing this series of little habits was because I recognized that many Canadians feel disconnected from each other, and I wanted to help fill that gap so that we feel less alone.

Well, I can tell you that having a dog makes me feel a lot less lonely (and I’m surrounded by people all day, every day), and I truly believe that even if you don’t own a pet, just being around a dog can dampen those feelings of disconnection and isolation.

Academic research backs me up here. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that when college students just thought about a pet, it was as effective as thinking about a friend for staving off negative feelings caused by social rejection.

“Pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners,” the study’s authors noted.

To sum it up, walking a dog on the regular will make you feel great, and you’ll make a new friend who loves belly rubs, treats, and lots of attention. Best of all, they’ll love you right back.

Where you can do it: Go explore a new part of your neighbourhood; find a new nature trail; take a walk on the boardwalk; or go to a local dog park.

How it makes us feel: Not only do I feel like I’m getting some exercise, but I love watching my dog take in all the smells of the neighbourhood. Watching her little tail wag as she meets new dogs (or food on the ground), makes my heart grow.

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And that’s your tip of the day.

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