A recent study of 1,024 American dog owners, conducted by the team at BarkBox, discovered that many Americans rely on their beloved four-legged friends to help them survive the stressful holiday period.

The study revealed that 85% of respondents used their dogs to cope with taxing times during the yuletide, with 43% of participants admitting that they are more excited to spend time with the family dog than with their human family members!

As animal lovers have known for centuries, contact with pets reduces stress levels and provides a sense of calm and companionship during difficult times. When you consider that 65% of Americans feel extra stressed during the holidays, it is no surprise that people turn to the unconditional love of their canine friends for a sense of wellbeing.

Spending only a few quality minutes with your dog can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two brain chemicals that promote calmness, and reduce the stress hormone cortisol — the same effects as eating chocolate.

Nine out of 10 people surveyed include their dog in the holiday festivities in some way, with 58% giving their pup a special meal and 57% hanging a Christmas stocking especially for their dog. One-third sign their dog’s name or include a paw print signature in their holiday cards, and an enthusiastic one out of six dog lovers have even coordinated a matching outfit with their companion animal.

“This study validates what we’ve always believed – that dog people of all ages and background consider their pup a member of the family,” said Stacie Grissom, head of content at BarkBox. “Now, more than ever, dog parents love spoiling their pup, mostly due to the wonderful butt wiggles and uninhibited exuberance that dogs express when they receive their favorite treat or toy. Gifts for dogs are – by far – the easiest, and most entertaining, gifts to give.”

Eighty percent of dog owners who took part in the study can confirm this, reporting that their dog is the most grateful gift recipient of all the family.