5 ways dogs help veterans adjust to civilian life It’s no news to anyone that pets are a great addition to someone’s life. In fact, research is currently underway by the University of Sydney to explore the benefits of co-existence, along with the influence of dog ownership on human physical and mental health and social wellbeing. The impact of the study into dog ownership and human health will be to “… help optimise all stages of dog-human coexistence, from the mechanics behind adoption decisions to encouraging greater interaction and dog walking. The research we produce will generate important discussions and will influence policy, practice, and public health”. There are a number of benefits to owning a dog, that extend far beyond ‘dogs make you happy’. Here’s 5 of the key reasons why we think you should get one! Companionship For veterans, the simple addition of a pet to their life can be transformative. At the most basic level, dogs provide unconditional companionship, which can be a huge support as you transition back into civilian life. Loneliness is one of the most common experiences of retired veterans, as they struggle to adjust to a new way of living, develop new connections and integrate into the community. The pressure of this can get overwhelming and the unconditional companionship provided by a dog can be vital. General wellbeing Having to focus on the fundamental needs of a dog not only provides a distraction, but it can also be essential in establishing new routines. The day-to-day responsibility of caring for and nurturing a pet provides a purpose - even the simple acts of having to go out and buy dog food, take the dog for a walk, throw a ball with a dog or just brush its coat. Along with physical contact throughout the day with the pet, the experience overall increases the release of feel-good chemicals in the body, contributing to a greater overall sense of wellbeing. Social connection One of the most powerful aspects of dog ownership is the opportunity to build social connections. Next to a baby, the dog is the greatest magnet for human attraction, with strangers unable to resist reaching out to ask about your dog, make strange noises at your dog and of course pat your dog if you (or the dog) will let them. If you’re new to a community, establishing a routine of dog walking will allow you to gradually build social connections in your local area, meeting the same people multiple times, at which point conversation and friendships can naturally develop over time. PTSD and TBI Many veterans live with the challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) as their focus, once they return to civilian life. The use of Animal Assisted Therapy has been vital in the care of veterans and suicide prevention. In these cases, dog ownership can also have a significant impact on anxiety, mental, psychosocial and emotional health. The sense of purpose that dog ownership provides should not be underestimated, with research historically showing that living with a dog provokes a biological response in your body. The experience impacts on biological pathways, increasing the release of endorphins (hormones produced in the pituitary gland), that have a positive effect on stress levels. Cardiovascular health Given how much walking, chasing, fetching and outside time is needed to keep your dog happy, it should be no surprise that hearth health gets a boost too. Research over the years has repeatedly shown that pet ownership impacts positively on cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and lowering triglycerides in men. Improved cardiometabolic function occurs as a direct result of increased physical activity. Getting fresh oxygen into your body tissues improves your immunity and getting outside provides much needed perspective some days, beyond the four walls of the home. Dog ownership is a commitment it’s true but the decision to make the leap is not just about ‘having a pet’. The partnership with an animal becomes symbiotic - they will depend on you, and in return respond with unconditional gratitude and love. They will become an essential part of your household and lifestyle, impacting deeply on you personally, as well as your friends and family, and the entire community.