Owning a Dog Strengthens the Brain, Research Claims

Having a dog means spending a good part of your time taking care of them. You have to take them out for a walk, keep up to date with vet checkups, and put up with the fact that they often destroy your shoes. However, in return, they give you good health and a happy life.
Owning a Dog Strengthens the Brain, Research Claims
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 19 March, 2023

Owning a dog is a great responsibility but, at the same time, it generates enormous benefits. Naturally, everyone who has a furry friend at home is aware of this fact, but now science has also confirmed it.

Indeed, a recent study conducted by experts from the University of Basel (Switzerland) and published in Plos One, found that having a dog strengthens the brain. Scientists conducted several tests and discovered that brain activity benefits from the company of our canine friends.

Moreover, this isn’t the only study on the subject. Today, there’s ample and solid evidence for the benefits of owning a dog. Let’s see what science has to say on the subject.

Woman hugging her dog
Bonding with a pet helps reduce stress and boosts your mood.

The study

The research sought to establish whether owning a dog caused any appreciable change in the brain. To find out, the researchers recruited a group of 21 volunteers. In three sessions, participants had contact with a dog and, in three control sessions, they interacted with a plush animal. Each session consisted of five two-minute phases with increasing intensity of contact with the dog or stuffed animal from the first to the fourth phase.

The researchers measured blood flow in different areas of the participants’ brains with infrared sensors. The results were compelling. The study revealed that those who interacted with both dogs and toys showed significant activation of the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is linked to attention, emotions, and decision-making.

The participants who interacted with dogs demonstrated more brain activity than the control group. This suggests that interactions with dogs activate stronger attentional processes. In the study, dogs also provoked more emotional arousal than when the participants interacted with the stuffed toys. Therefore, the researchers concluded that having a dog strengthens the brain.

Other investigations

The above is one of the most recent investigations. That said, it’s not the only one to mention the benefits of owning a dog. In fact, a study conducted in 2009 found that our furry friends are a great option for reducing stress and improving mood.

This research also evaluated the effect of petting and pampering a dog. Participants were allowed to do it for ten minutes. After this period, there was a marked reduction in their respiratory rate and muscle tension. There was also evidence of a significant decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone.

Another interesting study cross-referenced information between the Swedish National Patient Registry, sociodemographic data, causes of death, and dog ownership. The findings were surprising. They concluded that having a dog seems to decrease the probability of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Senior man with a dog
Dogs can help older people cope with loneliness and stimulate their minds.

Further evidence

As if all of the above information weren’t enough, another study was conducted by the University of Michigan (USA) in 2020. It suggested that owning a pet, particularly a dog or a cat, slows down cognitive decline in older people.

In this investigation, a series of cognitive tests were conducted on more than 1000 people aged over 65. Some of them owned pets and some of them didn’t. The results indicated that those who’d lived with dogs or cats for several years scored better. In the end, they concluded that owning a pet is extremely positive for the brain.

The scientists pointed out that having a dog or a cat doesn’t make anyone smarter. What it does is produce really beneficial effects, more especially reducing stress. In fact, being relaxed is one factor that protects the brain from deterioration. In addition, having a dog or cat forces its owner to move, go out, and socialize more. Together, they help the individual maintain good cognitive functions.

Therefore, we can confidently state that having the company of a domestic animal increases an individual’s well-being.  So, if you have any doubts about owning a dog, it’s clear that the scales are tipped in favor of our furry friends. Indeed, having a dog is highly recommended, especially for children, the elderly, and those who live alone.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Le Roux, M. C., & Kemp, R. (2009). Effect of a companion dog on depression and anxiety levels of elderly residents in a long‐term care facility. Psychogeriatrics, 9(1), 23-26.
  • Marti R, Petignat M, Marcar VL, Hattendorf J, Wolf M, Hund-Georgiadis M, et al. (2022) Effects of contact with a dog on prefrontal brain activity: A controlled trial. PLOS ONE 17(10): e0274833. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0274833.
  • Mubanga, M., Byberg, L., Egenvall, A., Ingelsson, E., & Fall, T. (2019). Dog ownership and survival after a major cardiovascular event: a register-based prospective study. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 12(10), e005342.
  • Team, B. A. S. (2022, 28 octubre). Why Having a Pet Can Boost Your Mood and Keep Your Brain Healthy. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-having-a-pet-of-any-kind-may-boost-your-mood-and-keep-your-brain-healthy/.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.