Australian dog lovers coped better with loneliness during COVID lockdowns than those without pets, a study has found.
But it was increased mindfulness that likely caused the robust response to the pandemic by the canine-owning cohort rather than their dogs or even the opportunity to venture out with their ‘best friends’ for a walk, say James Cook University researchers.
“We found both dog and cat ownership positively impacted feelings of loneliness for people living alone and that dog ownership, in particular, is associated with decreased loneliness during a lockdown,” psychologist Jessica Oliva said on Monday.
The team also found a significant relationship between increased mindfulness and decreased loneliness.
“It’s possible the lower levels of loneliness observed in dog owners is more related to the type of personality associated with being a person who owns a dog than the dogs themselves,” said Dr Oliva.
Dog lovers were found to be significantly different from cat lovers across the five main personality traits – extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism.
“The association between higher levels of mindfulness and lower levels of loneliness are consistent with previous research that suggests that mindfulness alleviates or prevents loneliness,” said Dr Oliva.
“This means that efforts to find ways to increase the state of mindfulness during social isolation are important.”
Mindfulness is the ability to keep the brain attending to what is occurring in the present moment and calmly acknowledge and accept feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.
The team surveyed 534 dog owners, cat owners and those without pets living alone in Australia during the second lockdown period.
A previous study during the first COVID-19 lockdown found dog owners living alone were less likely to be lonely than non-dog owners because they left home and walked their pets, giving them opportunities to socialise and exercise.
But the James Cook researchers did not find evidence to support this conclusion. However, they acknowledged some restrictions during the second lockdown also impacted dog walking and that this may have reduced the frequency, duration and benefits of it.