How Pets Can Help Improve Your Social Life

Unsurprisingly, your beloved fur baby can be an incredible wingman.

Hipster friends having fun with a dog in a vintage van
Photo: Nazar Rybak/Getty

Your furry friends have some tricks to teach you about getting along with others, researchers say. After all, if dogs and cats can live together in harmony — and even love each other like the Instagram-famous duo Henry the dog and Baloo the cat, shouldn't humans be able to set aside their differences? Here's how pets can help you do that. (

They Create an Instant Connection

Let's say you have neighbors you rarely speak to beyond a perfunctory hello when you see them on the street — a frequent occurrence, as people become more socially isolated. A dog, whether it's yours or theirs, gives you a reason to stop and talk and something to bond over, says Lori Kogan, Ph.D., a professor of human-animal interaction at Colorado State University. "A pet is a safe zone," she says. Even in these divisive times, there's nothing controversial about a friendly, well-behaved pooch.

They Teach You to Be Collaborative

In addition to interacting with your neighbors, you'll meet all kinds of people with your dog, whether you're at the park or hiking. Pets have "the social lubricant effect," says Virginia K. Corrigan, a professor at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. In other words: They practically guarantee that you're going to engage with others. "You're much more likely to strike up a conversation if you're walking with your pet than if you go walking by yourself," she says. (They might even help you make friends as an adult.)

This conviviality even extends to the office. Research on pets in the workplace suggests they help us collaborate with others and can decrease stress, says Corrigan, who has seen this firsthand. "When I bring my golden retriever, Yogi, with me to work, his wagging tail and sweet face make people smile, which makes me smile in return," she says. "We're more relaxed with our pets around and more interactive with one another."

They Help You Find Common Ground

Empathy — the ability to recognize and understand another's feelings — is key to helping us relate to them, and "research with children shows that caring for a pet helps build it," Kogan says. Animals can therefore become a bridge: "When you see that another person likes dogs, just as you do, you're more likely to have positive thoughts about them," she says. "And that might translate into giving them the benefit of the doubt in other areas."

Dogs and cats can also help you feel more in tune with others, Corrigan adds. "It's thought that animals have a unifying effect when they're in our presence," she says. "They've been described as 'ambassadors from the natural world' who provide us with restorative power. Mutual love and admiration for our pets can help us identify a common ground, which can lay the groundwork for cooperation." (Next up: Peloton's Jess Sims Is the Rescue Dog Advocate the World Needs)

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