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Want More Friends? Pick up Dog Walking

Update Date: Jul 30, 2013 12:28 PM EDT

An active social life is extremely important in helping people maintain a good quality of life. Not only do interactions improve mental health, they can also lead to more exciting experiences. However, making friends, whether it is in a new city, at a new job or during the first day of school, can be quite difficult. According to a new study out of the University of Western Australia (UWA), one of the top five ways of making friends is through dog walking.

For this study, the lead author, an associate professor from UWA, Lisa Wood, and her colleagues wanted to examine the role of pets in building social relationships within communities. The research team surveyed 2,700 adults from the city of Perth in Australia and three other cities from the United States. They found that owning a dog was an effective tool for building social relationships and expanding one's network, especially if the person just moved into a new community.

"We found that more pet owners than non-pet owners got to know new people since moving to their current neighborhood," Wood said according to Medical Xpress. "And of the pet owners who had got to know people in their neighborhood because of their pet, more than half considered one or more of the people they met to be friends."

The feeling of belonging to a certain type of community or group of people can be highly beneficial for people's mental health. Owning a pet helps people ease into their communities. Aside from meeting more people, the researchers also noted that dog walking provided other benefits, such as another form of exercise and a better perception of one's own neighborhood.

"The findings provide further evidence of the personal and collective benefits of dog-walking," another one of the study's co-authors, Hayley Christian said. Christian is an assistant professor from UWA as well.

This study was funded by WALTHAM, a pet food company, and confectionery firm Mars. This study was also the first one to analyze the role of pets on an international and cross-country basis. Wood and Christian presented their research at the triennial conference of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations in Chicago, U.S. 

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