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Especially when the stresses of school seem all-consuming, having a pet can help some students stay grounded.

Image via Odyssey

Always there to greet you when you get home and wanting to spend all of their time with you, dogs provide some of the truest relationships for a person. Offering kindness and support everyday—with a wag of a tail—dogs can transform moods and help motivate you to live your best life.

College is a trying time of transition for any student, and they can use all the help they can get to become successful and well-rounded people while still trying to figure out how to be a fully functional adult. Dogs offer the motivational support needed for some students’ emotional and physical well-being, as well as the lessons learned from the responsibility of caring for another living thing.

1. Companionship

College can be a lonely time, especially if you relocate to a different state or city to attend your school. It takes awhile to cultivate the connections of human friends, and dogs are the perfect companions to turn to for social interaction when your life is wanting in other ways. Even if you do find your core group of college friends, odds are that you have vastly different schedules between school and work, and getting together to hang out or grab a drink after class can be difficult. But if you have a furry friend, you can always put their harnesses on and take them with you to study or hang out at the park. They’ll never have conflicting plans and are not known to flake out on you last minute, the same of which cannot be said for many humans.

Even better than providing you with companionship, your willingness to adopt a shelter dog will provide them with a human companion for life, and in many cases, even save it. According to statistics provided by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there are about 3.3 million dogs currently in shelters across the nation and over half of those are euthanized every year. There’s a dog out there waiting for their new best friend to take them home, you just have to go out there and find them.

2. Responsibility

It’s no secret that owning a dog will require work to properly care for them. Often, dog owners have to plan their day carefully so as to not leave their pets home alone for extremely long periods of time. After all, they do need to be fed and let out to use the bathroom at regular intervals, which requires a lot of time-management skill-building.

While some college students are still learning to take care of themselves, more mature students can benefit from learning to take care of others. Owning a dog makes you emotionally, physically and fiscally responsible for another living being. You have to be constantly aware of their needs to ensure a healthy and long life with your pet. In many ways, this can help prevent the self-centered nature that college life breeds, as it’s easy for students to get sucked into their own world of worries. Being aware of your responsibility to another being can help you stay outside of your own head and keep yourself in check.

3. More Active Lifestyle

Sleeping in until noon and staying in bed all weekend to binge-watch Netflix are tempting to do on your days off when you don’t have a dog waiting for you to wake up and take them out. Sometimes just that little push to get out of bed early is the starter you need to get your day going, and once you’re up, your pup will be too. They want to see the world, and most importantly, they want to see it with you. Dogs long to be outside for walks, trips to the park and interaction with other people and animals. As their companion, you benefit from engaging in these activities too.

“Dog ownership can provide important benefits in terms of promoting walking behavior,” said a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. People that have dogs are more likely to get out and exercise during their leisure time, much more than those that don’t. Breeds that are highly active tend to keep their owners outside and exercising them much more than others, as their energy needs to be burned to live inside of a home and not destroy it.

Taking your dog running is not only a good way to leash train your pet, but also helps you train too. If you have an active dog, like mine, that loves to run, that extra tug on a leash when you slow down helps to keep you on pace with your run time. They’re the best running partners; they’ll never be late to your run and you don’t have to make conversation with them while you’re huffing and puffing down the road.

Or if running’s not your thing, just talking your dog for quick walks will have more benefits for you too. Dogs tend to encourage their owners to walk for longer periods of time at a faster, more intense pace that will increase your heart rate and help you get your cardio in, according to an article published by National Public Radio.

4. Mental Health Benefits

There’s a reason that so many dogs are trained for emotional support therapy and are so successful in offering the care that so many need for their mental health. They are naturally in tune to human emotions so they can sense their owner’s needs and are always willing to lend themselves for a proverbial shoulder to cry on. Dogs provide the kind of support that many people might not get from their human companions.

In addition to being there for you emotionally, they also provide mental health benefits such as reduced stress, lowered heart rate and relaxation when touched by their owners according to an article in “Psychology Today.”

Depression, anxiety and PTSD are all commonly treated with therapy dogs, as they offer silent support to the humans that suffer from these conditions. But even if you don’t have a certified emotional support or therapy dog, your untrained pet will still provide you with all of these benefits, perhaps in a less well-behaved and controlled fashion.

A Caveat

While owning a dog can have a lot of benefits for you, nobody will benefit if you don’t take the time to think about if you have the resources, wherewithal, energy and compassion to give care for a pet. Too many pets are returned to shelters or passed off to other owners because their human didn’t take the time needed into proper consideration. College is a busy time, just make sure you’re not too busy to give a dog the attention it deserves and needs to thrive.

If you do decide to get a dog, you’ll have a special bond with an animal that will reward you in so many ways. Like all good things, it’s worth the effort.

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