As I walk my standard poodle, Jazmine, five miles a day around the reservoir near our Boston-area home, her joie de vivre fills mine. Along the way, I meet friends, both human and canine.
Jazmine beckons for people to admire her gorgeous apricot-blonde curls, giving kisses in return. When I run into my friend Jennifer, she stops to ogle Jazmine’s coif. It’s mutual admiration as the gorgeous curly haired blondes size each other up.
If you live mostly in a remote world packed with Zoom meetings, you may crave real human connection. Remote work has its positives: more efficient use of time; no commute; and for many, better work-life balance. The cost: much less social interaction and often a feeling of isolation. A dog can be the antidote.
Dogs need to be walked a few times a day. So, as you walk, you’re likely to speak to people—those who have dogs, and don’t. For example, on my usual trek around the reservoir, I exchange pleasantries or have deeper conversations with at least 30 people. That’s a lot of social interaction.
When a dog is in your life, your mood improves—even on the darkest days when nothing seems to go your way. Before the pandemic, through the shutdown, and continuing today, I found both a community and support system through my walks with Jazmine.
Mental and physical health benefits
Humans and dogs are social creatures, so the human-dog partnership is beneficial both mutually and symbiotically. A dog will help you worry less and feel safer while you, the “pet parent,” cares for, loves, and nurtures your canine friend. Remote work also allows for a little bit more flexibility in your schedule. If you have a 20-minute break in your morning meetings, you can head outside and get a breath of fresh air with your willing companion.
On a neurochemical level, a dog’s happiness increases when it has a good relationship with humans. Paul Zak, an economist and professor at Claremont Graduate University in California, found that dogs get a 57.2% oxytocin boost when they interact with their families. Oxytocin is the feel-good hormone found in humans and dogs.
Because dogs need to be walked and exercised, pet parents often get more physical activity than people without dogs. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine’s study in Japan found that people who walk their dogs reported more minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and total physical activity than people who walk without dogs.
Having a dog reduces stress. A study of students at Washington State University found that interacting with dogs significantly reduced cortisol, a major stress hormone. A University of Buffalo study of stockbrokers found that having a dog helped lower blood pressure spikes in stressed individuals.
Working inside and staring at a computer for 8 or more hours a day is not good for your brain. Good things happen to your mind when you walk outdoors. Walking near water, across a grassy field, or among trees—even a strip of green on a tree-lined street in the city—is soul-soothing and refreshing.
Research that neuroscientist David Strayer conducted shows that the prefrontal cortex—the area of the brain you use to multitask and do many other things throughout the day—is less active when you walk. Being outdoors with your dog, even in a small green urban setting, is enough to give the cortex a much-needed break. That break lets your mind wander, allowing all kinds of insights to bubble up. Maybe it’s a breakthrough on a problem you’ve been trying to solve at work, or a creative idea for an upcoming project. Walking outdoors is, in fact, an asset to any profession.
If you live in a cold winter climate as I do, staying put indoors is easy if you don’t have a dog. But even when it’s snowing, you need to walk your dog. So if you’ve pondered how to keep your fitness level up when the days are short and cold, having a dog will help ensure you stay on track.
Make new friends, human and canine
In an office setting, you have a built-in support system of coworkers you interact with at the water cooler or in the hallways. Working from home doesn’t allow the daily benefit of face-to-face interaction, no matter how many Slack messages you send or Zoom calls you attend. That ongoing stimulation and community from interpersonal relationships cannot be compared.
The benefits of dog parenting go beyond the physical and mental. People who walk their dogs are seen as more friendly and approachable. A study of 2,000 people in the U.K. looked at the social impacts of owning a dog and found people are 55% more likely to start a conversation with someone if they have a dog. Along with in-person conversations, an occasional bark on either side of the Zoom screen is a great way to establish a more personal connection.
The study found the average dog owner has six conversations a week with people in the community—that’s 312 conversations a year. Other study results showed the typical dog owner gained at least three friends as a result of owning their pet. That happened to me.
Without Jazmine, I would not have met my friend Fiona, a warm-hearted woman originally from Shanghai. She taught me the history of China and Shanghai, peppering her explanations with stories that made the past come alive. Flora’s intelligent and mischievous Corgi became Jazmine’s running companion. They frolicked together on the reservoir beach.
Fiona and I developed a close friendship. This was at the beginning of the pandemic, when masks were not recommended. She had secured N95 masks for her family in China during the initial virus surge there, when masks were in short supply in China while the U.S. had sufficient amounts. And because she had a small stockpile when the virus took hold in the U.S., she then donated them to local hospitals and gave some to my family. Many nurses and doctors in our community and I are deeply grateful for Fiona’s thoughtfulness and generosity.
I became friends with Sylvie and her miniature schnauzer, Yoshi. Sylvie, who is from France, taught Jazmine true French discipline, including good dog manners. I learned about French politics.
I’ve walked with Nailah, who heads the dance program at a nearby school. She’s a world explorer and shares photos and her love of Africa. She isn’t a pet parent but purposely walks where she’ll meet her human and canine friends.
Then there’s Jim, the daredevil heli-skiing venture capitalist who, with his wife, created an Alpaca farm. He and their dog, Joey, walk the reservoir. And Arthur, an 88-year-old U.S. Postal Service retiree, who sits near the reservoir handing out treats to Jazmine and the other dogs every day. Had I not walked Jazmine, I would not have met any of these remarkable people because our paths wouldn’t have crossed.
Jazmine helped my family and me get through the dark days of the pandemic. Before the move to remote and hybrid work, our full days in the office precluded dog ownership. But, especially if you’re finding yourself isolated from WFH, a canine companion will enhance your life.
Marjorie Radlo-Zandi is an entrepreneur, board member, mentor to startups, and angel investor who shows early-stage companies how to build and successfully scale their businesses.