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Dogs aren’t cure-all for loneliness, study says

DSC09243Someday I am going to do a study that shows 62 percent of all studies do little more than confirm what people with a modicum of common sense already know.

Until then, I will dutifully report on them — dog-related ones, anyway.

A new Canadian study, for instance, concludes that dog owners who live alone and have limited human social support are actually just as lonely as their petless peers.

The Carleton University study’s authors, both of whom own dogs, say that pets aren’t people and can’t compensate for a lack of human relationships, the Vancouver Sun reported.

“Pet ownership isn’t the panacea we think it is,” said co-author Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at the Ottawa-based university.  “… The research indicates that pets don’t fill as much of a hole as we might believe they do. If you don’t have human social support already on your side, you’re still going to fall short.”

However, the study acknowledges, dog owners who do have a social life, with human friends, are indeed less lonely than non-dog owners.

Interestingly, that finding didn’t hold true for people with cats.

The part of the study that does seem worthy of study is that dealing with how, among people who live alone and have “insufficient” social ties, high attachment to a dog or cat can serve to only increase the pet-owner’s likelihood of loneliness and depression.

People with limited community connections, the study shows, were more likely to humanize their dog — and to nurture their relationship with their dog at the expense of their personal lives.  Typically, those people were more depressed, visited the doctor more often and took more medications.

“We all know that pets can be there for us. But if that’s all you have, you run into trouble,” Pychyl said. The study’s authors also acknowledged that, often, dogs can serve as a catalyst for more social interaction.

In other words, dogs aren’t the sole cure for loneliness, but they sure can help — which most of us pretty much already knew.

The Carleton study was published in the journal Anthrozoos.


Comment from Miss Jan
Time April 6, 2010 at 11:29 am

I worked in academia for years and this story just confirms my personal experience that there are more idiot academics than just about anywhere else. I can only imagine just how flawed this study is and hope it is roundly discredited.

Comment from Al
Time April 6, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Yes, frozen yogurt does not cure all forms of cancer…

Comment from laura
Time April 6, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Odd. I found that my dog increased my social life. I used to stay inside the house and play on the computer. Now I meet people at the park, go hiking with people and their dogs, chat with people at training, and I’ve joined dog clubs that plan walks together.

I found my dog did a great deal to cure my loneliness and expand my social life.

Comment from Fanny
Time April 6, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Fanny Mae is w/ me almost 24/7. We walk together in a.m., drive to work together, work in the same office (yes she works… testing dog treats:) walk again in pm., eat dinner together, watch TV on the couch side-by-side, then sleep in the same bed. Honestly, there is no one who has ever wanted to be with me as much as Fanny. She’s my best bud – To date, she’s been my best friend and partner ever. AMEN TO DOGS!

Comment from Eighteenpaws
Time April 6, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Just as you are skeptical, JW, I also disagree with the gist of this “report.” The underlying theme is “if you are depressed and sad and lonely by nature, you will be depressed and sad and lonely” despite whatever pets reside with you. Say what?? For those of us who love dogs, and my animal-loving pals are a broadly eclectic group, from people who have large, interactive families to those with a multitude of needy, longtime friends and associates, to those who prefer to balance their people-intensive days with quieter, more retrospective evenings, our pets offset the insanity and stresses of our many days. Regardless of the personality and style, each of these folks, and me included, will say the same thing: I just can’t imagine walking thru the door at the end of (whatever) day and not having my dogs/cats swirling and talking and touching and telling me all about THEIR days. Regardless of the hour or circumstance, their love is without doubt. The enthusiasm just never varies. It is the best, enviable of companionship. I will have it, in some form, until I take my last breath.

Comment from FedHillPugMom
Time April 7, 2010 at 9:26 am

Clearly, the people doing this study weren’t studying the people with dogs @ Riverside Park 🙂 Not to mention the theraputic value of animals has been proven over and over. While it may not directly affect lonliness, it indirectly helps with issues that may contribute to behaviors or disorders that increase chances of being lonely ie depression and anxiety.