Holidays 4 Dogs asks: Are Dog Owners More Friendly?
A recent study by Direct Line Pet Insurance has found that more than half of British dog lovers believe that a person walking a dog is more likely to be friendlier than someone they meet without a dog. In addition, the research also discovered that nearly half of British people think that being an animal lover makes that person much more appealing.
As it happens, the social benefits that animals provide to humans has long been known and owners of companion animals, particularly owners of pet dogs, frequently report that their pets provide them with positive social support amongst other humans.
There is a great deal of research on the subject of the social effects of animals on people, in particular the stimulation of social interaction between humans. The positive effect that the presence of companion animals can have during human interaction is known as the, ‘social catalyst effect’ and a good deal of research has shown that people provide each other with more positive attention when an animal is present. In addition to this, the presence of an animal creates an increase in perceived trust of a particular individual who is accompanied by an animal.
The company of dogs, over other types of animals, increases these ratings of relaxation and trust and moreover, also has an effect on how a person perceives the environment. One study focused on the perception of students in the company of their professor when there was also a friendly dog in the room. Students reported that they felt the professor was more friendly and approachable when the dog was in the room, in comparison with the presence of a cat or no animal at all. Interestingly, this phenomenon persists even when dog owners, who happen not to have their dog with them at the time, meet another person with a dog.
People with disabilities are also regarded in a more positive light when accompanied by a service dog because the dog ‘normalises’ the situation for the person with the disability, who might otherwise have been overlooked had they not been with their service animal.
The presence of a specialised therapy dog can motivate people to engage in rehabilitation programmes from youth offending to mental health therapy. Other studies have shown that the presence of a calm and friendly dog helps children to engage in reading by reducing self-consciousness.
It is also estimated that as many as 360,000 dog owners have met partners while walking their dog or have had a romantic experience with another dog walker. In fact, it is thought that 28 per cent of Britain’s have found love while out walking their dog, including the famous television presenter Ben Fogle who met his wife while taking his dog for a walk.
Dogs have long been a part of our family networks so it is hardly surprising that the importance of their role extends beyond this. Dogs can facilitate children and adults to become part of a social group and this is more marked with people who have disabilities.
And, although it has long been known that dogs can have an overall effect on the stress levels of humans, it is now also known that humans can have a calming effect on dogs by decreasing their heart rate, especially when they are stroked and patted. The company of dogs therefore, seems to create a particular atmosphere between humans that facilitates positive communication and actually, a more positive perception of the social world in general.
It is clear that there are vast benefits to dog owning that go far beyond simple companionship because a dog can create very positive social rewards by acting as a catalyst for new friendships and, even romance, among human beings.
Sources: Dog Behaviour, Evolution and Cognition, (2nd Ed) Miklosi. A. (2015); Dog News (on-line) (2015); Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy (4th Ed) Fine A.H. (2015); One Health: The Theory and Practice of Integrated Health Approaches, Zinsstag, J. et al (2015)