In the late 1930s, an Australian cattle dog named Bluey set the canine age record at 29.4 years. That’s 161 dog years according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, which has decreed that the first year of a dog’s life equals 15 human years, the second year equals nine years, and each human year after that adds up to approximately five dog years.

As my dog nears her fifth birthday—in dog years, that is—I sincerely hope my Piper Pepper Paws breaks the record for the longest-living pooch.

I have a thing for breaking records, having taken part in the longest game of netball, the largest group PSA test, and tossing the greatest number of teddy bears onto the ice at a hockey game. (You know, real history-making stuff!) 

Dogs really do have the ability to improve mental health and bring other physical health benefits to the entire family. I want Piper to live the longest and happiest life because of how much my family loves her and how much she gives back to us. 

Worth the wait

We spent many hours browsing pet stores and talking to animal rescue centres and breeders before deciding on a miniature schnauzer puppy. I never had a dog growing up, so our dog search was uncharted territory for me. Social media helped me get up to speed, and before long, my family was following various schnauzers on Instagram for grooming ideas, personality traits, training tips, and general cuteness.

Our excitement had reached a fever pitch by the time we topped one breeder’s waitlist in November 2021. We drove out of town for a one-shot meeting and immediately fell in love. The only thing left to do was decide on a name. Everyone in the family had a vote with Dublin, Nora, and Doge all being suggested before we agreed on Piper. My wife clapped completing her name as “Piper Pepper Paws,” which plays on her salt and pepper colouring.

The physical and mental benefits of owning a dog

Buzz bishop and family

Man’s best friend helps with much more than adorable Instagram posts. Beyond all the fun we have with Piper and the unconditional love and loyalty she shows us, I’ve been blown away by how much my physical and mental health has improved since she came into our lives.

Fun and easy exercise

The weather outside may be frightful, but Piper is ALWAYS delightfully fired up about going for a walk around our Calgary neighbourhood. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and I enjoy being active outdoors too. 

I’m far from the only human who benefits from “walkies.” A recent British study suggests that owning dogs can strongly affect how much people exercise. The dog owners who took part were about four times more likely than other people to walk for at least 150 minutes each week. In fact, dog owners spent nearly 300 minutes each week walking with their dogs, which was about 200 more minutes of walking than people without dogs.

Walking briskly for 30 minutes is a legit form of exercise—it burns around 250 calories—with men who walk five city blocks in a day lowering their risk of heart attack by 25 percent. Thanks to Piper, I’ve been walking at least five blocks most days.

Less stress

As well as getting active, walking and playing outside with Piper is great for unplugging and shrugging off the stresses of the world. Research backs this up by suggesting that the heart rates and blood pressures of dog owners are steadier and moderate more quickly during times of stress than that of people who don’t have dogs.

In another study, 48 participants performed stress tests involving public speaking and difficult calculations while unfriendly observers watched them. The participants were randomly assigned to either take the test alone, to take the test with a friend, or to take the test with a dog they didn’t know to accompany them before and during the test. While everyone became more anxious during the test and showed higher heart rates, dog-paired participants had lower levels of both than those tested alone or with a human friend. 

Connecting with others

I’m not a particularly social person, but I feel more connected to the community when I’m strolling around with Piper. The rewards and challenges of dog ownership are sure-fire icebreakers when I run into other dog owners. There’s actually plenty of evidence that having a dog can improve our ability to connect with other people

For example, one study found that having a dog around made people more trusting, friendly, and cooperative, while another found that people consider dog-walkers to be more approachable than someone without a dog.

Dog ownership shouldn’t be taken lightly

As fun, rewarding and healthy as dog ownership can be, it’s also a big responsibility. For one thing, it’s not cheap. According to the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA), the annual average cost of caring for a puppy ranges from $4,589 to $4,666, and annual care for a dog is approximately $3,724. 

You have to stay on top of everything from veterinary care, parasite prevention, neutering or spaying to proper licensing and obedience classes. Food alone costs an average of $940 a year. 

And last but not least, you need to be able to set aside time and energy for walks and playtime and must be prepared to pay more for rental housing, hotel rooms and other common expenses. Wanting to own a dog, and being able to own a dog, are not the same thing.

Man’s best friend indeed!

Dog in snow

Following dogs on Instagram may make you want to own a dog, and having the right resources in place makes it a good idea. But cute photos can’t convey the many health benefits that dog ownership can bring. 

For example, one study found that people who acquired a dog reported fewer minor health problems and rated themselves as healthier than non-pet owners up to 10 months later. Another study found that dog owners live longer and that pet owners make fewer annual doctor visits than non-owners.

You may not live quite as long as Australia’s Bluey did (in dog years), but having Piper in my life has shown me that owning and caring for a dog can help you enjoy the years you do have all the more.

What’s your favourite thing about your dog? Please share in the comments below!

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