Dr. Jess: How your four-legged friend can be hurting or helping your relationship

Dog ownership is on the rise across the city, and although families with kids are most likely to own a pup, dog ownership is growing among DINK (double-income no-kids) couples and empty nesters who consider their dogs a part of their families.

Some couples, like my husband and me, view dog ownership as a relationship enhancer. While I’m travelling for work, Lido, our Pomeranian, keeps Brandon company, and we see our love for her as yet another shared passion that enhances our bond.

Others, however, report that the responsibilities of dog ownership can put a strain on the relationship. Leaside residents Gary* and Keith* have a six-year-old Lab, and they admit that she’s a source of conflict.

When it comes to fighting about their pup, Gary and Keith are not alone. According to one survey, owning a dog leads to an average of three fights per week — 2,000 over the course of your hound’s life! Couples fight about walking responsibilities, where Fido should sleep, how much to spend on food and veterinary care and dog sitting arrangements during travel season. 

Oftentimes, an argument about your dog is a symptom of relationship tension. For example, when you fight about walking responsibilities, you may be addressing deeper issues related to division of household labour. Likewise when you disagree about whether or not you should splurge on a designer collar, it’s likely reflective of divergent financial values that were pre-existed your four-legged friend’s arrival.

Even with all the fights, research suggests that dog ownership offers a host of relationship benefits. Studies suggest dog owners are more physically active and report lower stress levels — both of which are associated with a more active sex life. Survey research also suggests that owning a dog makes you more attractive.

A furry family member may also improve your attitude toward your partner, as the presence of a dog in group situations is positively correlated with an increase in trust, co-operation, enthusiasm and intimacy. Owning a dog is also associated with lower blood pressure, and petting a pup can result in the release of “feel good” hormones including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. 

Even if you don’t own a dog, sharing cute puppy pics can enhance your relationship. Research reveals that looking at positive images alongside photos of your partner results in a more favourable attitude toward your relationship.

If puppy pics aren’t enough, check out the Part Time Pooch app, which matches Toronto dog lovers with dogs looking for walks, play visits and boarding.
(*Names have been changed.)

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