Researchers are beginning to take a closer look at how our pets benefit us. Here are just a few reasons:

They push us to be physically active: Dog owners walk 79% more each day than people with no dog. Scientific fact!

They improve our health: Owning a dog is linked to reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and less likelihood of obesity. Pets lower stress and lift depression.

They improve our capacity for empathy: Children and adults who have dogs become more nurturing and giving, caring and compassionate.

Dogs are uncritical: Even in our worst moments, whatever we look like or whatever we do, dogs are never withholding or judgmental. They are thrilled just to be around us.

They improve self-esteem: Everyone needs to be important to someone. Even a furry someone.

Dogs increase our social connectivity: Strangers connect more easily when a pet prompts conversation, or prompts a smile. Animals are “icebreakers.”

Petting your dog is a mood-elevator: We get huge psychological payback when we pause to pet a pooch. Scientifically, our brain produces increased amounts of the calming chemicals, oxytocin and serotonin, and decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

They structure our lives: Feeding routines, daily walks and playtimes, and even vet appointments bring routine and discipline, habit, order and purpose to our days.

Pets are responsive, easy to please, and always happy to see us: Pet miss us when we are gone and are welcoming when we reappear. Dogs are always interested in whatevewe are doing, and are uncomplaining companions. They are playful, grateful, and sense our every mood.

Dogs are welcome visitors: Groups take dogs to nursing homes and approved areas of hospitals to bring joy and cheer to patients. Faces brighten, smiles beam, and staff and patient moods improve for the entire day.

Dogs save lives: Just ask a soldier, a policeman in a K9 unit, or a vet dealing with PTSD.

Dogs love us unconditionally: We can do no wrong in their eyes, so long as we are kind to them, feed and walk them. They are devoted to us, to a degree that few humans in our lives are. A dog’s affection for its owner is rock solid, and steady. Dogs never hesitate to show love.

Dogs make us more adaptable: Pristine order and a systemized life go out the window when one brings homea dog. Dogs have accidents, get into mischief, make messes, shed hair, upchuck on the carpet and sometime wet the floor when you fail to make it home in time for that essential walk at the end of the day.

So smile – and love your dog.