9 ways loving a pet increases your emotional intelligence, according to psychology

Everyone loves pets, right? Say you don’t out loud, and you’d probably hear a collective gasp from all the people around you who hear it. Some people might even clutch their (imaginary) pearls in shock!

I’ll be honest – many years ago, I was definitely not an animal lover. I was raised in a pet-free household in a highly urbanized city, so animals were kind of out of my depth.

But when I became a mom, I knew I had to get one. You know why? 

Because pets increase our emotional intelligence. All the childhood experts are unanimous on that, and I wanted to follow their advice so I could raise kind and loving children. 

Here are 9 ways loving a pet can increase your EQ, according to psychology:  

1) It enhances empathy and compassion

Let’s start with a quick look at what emotional intelligence means – the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions and those of others.

To do this, you must have empathy and compassion. 

This is one of the very first things loving a pet can teach you. When you’re holding a living, breathing animal in your arms, you learn to recognize one major point – they are helpless. 

Of course, animals have their own survival instincts, but in our homes, they rely heavily on us for care, protection, and love. We’re their primary source of comfort and safety. 

And though you might not be an animal lover at first, that realization can’t help but build a sense of compassion in you. Psychology experts say that this empathy is related to the perceived vulnerability of animals. 

2) It makes you more observant of and responsive to body language and sounds

When my family and I started taking care of Maddy, our golden retriever, we quickly realized what a huge undertaking it was. 

It was more than just taking her out for walks and feeding her on time. We also had to learn how to decode her body language and sounds.

Fun fact: Did you know that dogs have about 10 vocal sounds? And cats have…wait for it…up to 100 different vocal sounds! And let’s not even get started on birds.

Which means, we humans have a lot of studying to do.

But it’s all worth it because not only does it help us figure out what our pets want, but this skill also helps us relate to other humans better. 

You see, understanding body language and non-verbal cues are a huge part of developing emotional intelligence. After all, according to studies, communication is 55% nonverbal and 38% vocal. 

If you can decode body language and emotional cues, that means you’re emotionally intelligent. 

3) It makes you more responsible

I remember hearing a story about a lady who saw a cute puppy in the shelter and decided to adopt it. Only to bring it back after a month because it turned out to be too much trouble. 

Well, yes. Of course, it’s not all cuteness and fun and games. Having a pet is a real responsibility. What was she thinking?

You’ve got to feed it, clean up after it, house-train it, take it to the vet for checkups, take it for a walk, and all that. 

But if you’re committed, the experience can be incredibly enriching. Taking care of another living being requires being understanding and responsible, both critical components of emotional intelligence. 

4) It increases patience

Imagine this: you have a pet cat that keeps using your sofa as a scratch post. Or a dog that keeps chewing your shoes to shreds.

Do you think that yelling or hitting can teach them the lessons and tricks they need to learn? 

Think again. When it comes to pet training, and just living with pets in general, patience is the best route

And believe me, you’ll need lots of it! 

But don’t worry, you’ll definitely learn to be patient. Research shows that developing patience is one of the benefits of having a family pet. 

5) It builds social skills

image 12 30.01 9 ways loving a pet increases your emotional intelligence, according to psychology

This is another way that loving a pet can develop your emotional intelligence. It makes your world wider and warmer than it used to be.  

Take a dog to the park and you’re bound to strike up a conversation with fellow dog owners. Or just take them out for a walk and see how many people wave hello and stop to chat because of your furry friend. 

Bring your cat to a cat cafe and believe me, no matter how much of an introvert you are, you’d suddenly find yourself gabbing away and gushing over the other cats there. 

Pets help us find common ground with people we don’t know – a crucial element of empathy. According to Virginia-Maryland College professor Virginia K. Corrigan, it’s “the social lubricant effect.” 

6) It reduces stress

Why do people love petting a dog (or a cat)? It’s scientific yet simple – it lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. 

And according to the American Heart Association, people with dogs have lower blood pressure. Just playing with pets increases oxytocin and dopamine, the feel-good chemicals in our body. 

I can attest to this. When I give my dog a massage, it’s actually a way to soothe myself as well. 

The fact of the matter is, we can’t be emotionally intelligent if we’re always stressed. As the saying goes, you can’t fill others’ cups when yours is empty. 

But if you have a pet? Well then, you’ve already got an easy way to fill your cup right in your home! 

7) It teaches you how to set boundaries

Pet training is a funny thing. You set boundaries to teach your pet to behave, but you know what? It’s a lesson in boundary-setting for you as well. 

As a former people-pleaser, I found that once I had a pet, it became easier for me to say “no” to doing things I didn’t want to do as well. It seems like my mouth suddenly got more comfortable with forming the word “no.”

In the same way, I became more mindful of other people’s boundaries, too. How? 

Well, my dog is a very expressive one, and when she isn’t in the mood for cuddles, she’ll really let you know. She’ll get up and leave and sit in a quiet corner. I quickly learned that her “no” also means “no”. 

According to the human-animal bond theory, our attachment to our pets depends on how much they see us as a safe haven. Setting and respecting boundaries is a key part of that. 

That’s why I can say that having a pet really helps us be more respectful of both our and other people’s boundaries. 

8) It teaches you the concept of unconditional love and security

The beautiful thing about having a pet is that you’ve got someone to love you without question.

You can go unwashed for days and believe me, they’d still cuddle with you and lick your face. You can be gone for days or weeks, and they’d still leap joyfully in the air when they see you again. 

They sure can teach us a lot about loyalty! 

Plus, when you receive such a healthy dose of love every day, what does that do for your self-esteem? 

You guessed it – it goes higher. It just feels so, so good to be loved that deeply. 

This sets you up to be more emotionally intelligent. Because according to research, there’s a strong link between healthy self-esteem and emotional intelligence. 

9) It makes you more self-aware

Finally, loving a pet can help boost your self-awareness. You see, pets often mirror our emotions and can react to our mood changes. 

This dynamic can make you more self-aware, which is another key aspect of emotional intelligence. You learn to manage your emotions better because you know that your behavior directly impacts your pet. 

For instance, when I’m dead tired from work, taking the dog out for a walk can feel like a chore. But I know it’s not fair to dump my stress on her and deprive her of what she needs. 

So I (wo)man up, get my head screwed on right, and do what I need to do for her. That’s self-regulation at work! 

Final thoughts

As you can see, there’s more to loving a pet than the joy they bring or the companionship they offer us. 

In many ways, we learn just as much from them as they do from us, maybe even more!

One thing’s for sure – caring for a pet makes us kinder and more emotionally intelligent, not just to our furry friends, but to our fellow human beings as well.

Picture of Roselle Umlas

Roselle Umlas

I am a freelance writer with a lifelong interest in helping people become more reflective and self-aware so that they can communicate better and enjoy meaningful relationships.

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