It has already been documented that having pets is related to positive benefits in a person’s physical and mental health. Pets are used as service dogs, not only for the blind, but for those that have anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and in prison rehabilitation programs. However, recent research shows that owning a pet also helps people make friends easier. This can be especially useful for those that are inherently shy or for children that find it harder to make friends than other children.
Owning pets has been shown to increase the perception of neighborhood friendliness in a 2005 study that was conducted in three different Australian cities. People felt more comfortable living in neighborhoods where their neighbors owned pets and perceived their neighbors as friendlier than compared to neighborhoods with little-to-no pets. Pet owners are also less likely to find it hard to get to know other people, both in and out of their neighborhoods. (Wood, Giles-Corti & Bulsara, 2005).
However, the study is not inclusive of all pets in general. The study fails to take into account how neighbors perceive the pet in general. It is probably less likely that people will view their neighbors in a positive light if they have a negative perception of the pet, or pets, that they own. This can include if a person believes a specific breed of dog that a neighbor has is more violent than others and can also extend to negative connotations associated with multiple pet ownerships (for example, a person with over a certain amount of pets may be considered as crazy or neglectful because of the number of pets owned). Finally, if a person has a poor experience with a neighbor’s pet, then they are probably more likely to have a negative connotation of that neighbor (if the pet bits another neighbor or their children, or has been seen relieving itself in a person’s yard).
If neighbors have positive perceptions of their other neighbors’ pets, then it is more likely that those neighbors will get along and have friendlier interactions with each other. Pets are a good ice-breaker between people and can also help children learn to become less shy around others if that is an issue that they struggle with. Finally, while pets can help improve psychological health as well as increase the friendliness of neighborhoods, it should be noted that pets should never be used as a replacement for physicians and psychologists (Herzog, 2011), and there is probably nothing better than friendly one-on-one interaction when it comes to building long-lasting friendships with other people.