Arboretum News

Companion Animals

Five ways that pets make our lives richer.

COVID-19 Update: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Find updates and information here.

By Jean Larson, manager of the Nature-Based Therapeutic Services Program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

It’s hard to say ‘no’ to a walk with Greta. Photo courtesy of Jean Larson.

It is mid-morning, and Greta, a 90-pound female Rottweiler, nudges my arm with sparkling eyes as if to say, “Remember, you cannot sit at your desk all day – time to go outside.” Her behavior moves me to action, and I think to myself “oxytocin!” – that is the love hormone. In other words, I love this dog, she loves me, and it is good to have her in my life and share in companionship.   

Humans and dogs have been inseparable for eons with documented evidence of mutual involvement for over 33,000 years. No surprises here. Despite the obvious evidence of our being different species, we humans and dogs do love and care for each other and have since prehistory.

There is scientific research in support of the mutually beneficial relationship between people and pets at the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) where they have identified five of the top benefits to include:

1. Pets help alleviate stress.

Research indicates a link to owning a pet significantly lowers heart rate and blood pressure in response to stress. According to one study of cardiovascular reactivity to stress, those with pets had significantly lower resting baseline heart rates, blood pressure, and faster recovery of these parameters to baseline after cessation of stress.

2.  Pets can play a role in reducing social isolation and loneliness.

Studies have shown how pets can provide people with the kind of social support that can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. A survey commissioned by HABRI and Mars Petcare found that 85 percent of respondents (pet owners and non-pet owners) believe pet interaction can help reduce loneliness and 76 percent agree human-pet interactions can help address social isolation. 

3. Pets can help facilitate healing and resiliency.

Several research studies have demonstrated an association between pet ownership and a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart-related health issues. A study of 2,400 cat owners concluded there was a significantly lower relative risk for death due to cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and heart attack, compared to non-owners during a 20-year follow-up.

4.  Pets can help with depression.

According to a HABRI survey of family physicians, 87 percent said their patients’ mood or outlook had improved because of pet ownership. Another study found that pets, through serving as a distraction from typical symptoms and encouraging activity, helped people cope with depression and other long-term mental health issues.

5. Pets improve and encourage physical activity.

Research suggests owning a dog can lead to lower rates of obesity and increased weekly exercise. One study analyzed data from the 2005 Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey to assess the overall impact of dog walking on the level of total walking and leisure-time physical activity, including exercise and recreational activities. Results found that dog walking was associated with a significant increase in walking activity and physical activity. Compared with non-dog owners, the odds of obtaining at least 150 minutes per week of total walking were 34 percent higher for dog walkers, and the odds of doing any physical activity were 69 percent higher.

So, while we may be in difficult times feeling down or isolated, it is good to know taking your dog outside has mutually beneficial effects on both you and your dog’s health and wellbeing. 

Dogs at the Arboretum

While dogs are not allowed most places on Arboretum grounds, the Arboretum’s Dog Commons On-Leash Trails are a place where two-legged and four-legged visitors discover opportunities for physical activity, education, socialization and emotional restoration.

This area is not “just an on-leash dog trail.” It is about the entire experience of being outside in plant-rich landscape with an animal companion. A goal of the Dog Commons is to inspire a shift from walking the dog as a chore to walking the dog as a mindful and restorative experience that benefits health and well-being for humans and pets.

For dogs to access the Dog Commons, an Arboretum membership that includes dogs is required. Every human must also have a reservation to enter the grounds, click here to reserve your ticket.

Bring your dogs to All About Dogs Day on June 5 in the Arboretum’s Dog Commons.

All About Dogs Day

10 a.m.-2 p.m. June 5, Dog Commons

Help us celebrate dogs in nature at the Arboretum’s Dog Commons On-Leash Dog Trails. Explore the 65-acre trail system and visit up to 40 vendors at the Dog Expo. Enter your dog(s) into virtual pet contests by June 1, and winners will be announced at All About Dogs Day. All dogs need to remain on-leash at all times and be up-to-date on all vaccinations.

Registration is $5 for Arboretum members with a dog-added membership, $15 for Arboretum members, $30 for non-members and free for children 15 and younger. Every person needs to register to gain admission to the Arboretum. A separate daily admission ticket is not needed. Reserve your spot at All About Dogs Day.

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