Seven years ago today, life changed. I was a new sister for a little puppy – 8 weeks old, size of my fist, and by all measures a fur ball. First weeks consisted of sleeping, pooping, eating, and then sleeping again. But time flies fast and now he is 7 years old!
It is so difficult to express the connection between humans and dogs. My favorite dog book by Cynthia L. Copeland, “Really important stuff my dog has taught me” is simple, just like my dog. It paints the tales of numerous ways dogs have truly changed the lives of their humans. But still, it cant possibly capture the emotions our relationship encompasses. I can only describe it this way: when I am having a nightmare and unable to wake up, my dog will cuddle up next to me and all of a sudden the nightmare ends, both metaphorically & in reality. When I am with my dog, I know I am loved without condition or prejudice. I know I am loved more than I can possibly love another.
Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remain unawakened. – Anatole France
In honor of my puppy’s birthday today, I thought I would share some studies published over the last few years documenting the effects of the relationship between dogs and humans.
What are the effects of dogs on humans? Humans are social animals and we all agree that socialization offers psychological and physical benefits. McConnell et al (2011) decided to study whether dogs can fulfill one’s social needs? What they found was astounding only to those who do not have a dog. Pet owners had greater self-esteem, greater conscientiousness, less fearful attachment. In addition, “the support that pets provided complemented rather than competed with human sources.” And finally, pets have the ability to “stave off negativity caused by social rejection.” For this reason, it is no surprise that many children and disabled support groups advocate for the use of pet therapy dogs. The 2015 study by Gadomski et al, showed that although children with a dog did not differ in their overall Body Mass Index (BMI), “having a pet dog in the home was associated with a decreased probability of childhood anxiety.”
What about our effect on dogs? Tuber, et al (1996) observed the level of glucocorticoids (cortisol) responses of domestic dog pairs when they were separated in a novel environment. When separated, the dogs showed showed increased activity and elevated glucocorticoid levels. These responses were “as large when the dogs were with their kennel mates as when they were alone.” When the pair was separated but teh remainin K-9 was in the presence of their human caretaker, “activity and glucocorticoid levels were not elevated …dogs more often were observed in proximity with, and soliciting social behavior from, the human than the kennel mate.” Conclusion: human companionship for the domestic dog is important and there is a difference in the nature of the social relationships of dogs with humans and with counterparts.
What does all this mean? Should we run to the shelters and adopt dogs? Should we measure our neuronal actions or maybe measure the secretions of endorphin when we play with a dog? Should we help people afraid of dogs move past their fears and become reacquainted with the K-9 species? Should I prescribe some K-9 therapy for all my patients with chronic diseases, especially depression? Should we have dogs visit classrooms in every school or maybe provide a program for schools with high events of bullying or childhood anxiety/depression?
If I had a magical power, I would say YES! to all and there would be happiness everywhere! Alas, I do not have the magical powers. However, I do have the power to encourage and mentor any and everyone who is thinking of adding a dog to their family. It is a big decision to make. It requires deep thought about the breed of dog, the space available in your home, the time commitment, and the health needs you can address comfortably. I cannot assure you that day-to-day is easy. But, I can assure you that it will be the best decision you can make!
- McConnell, AR., Brown, CM., Shoda, TM., Stayton, LE., Martin, CE. (2011) Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 101(6), Dec 2011, 1239-1252. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0024506
- Gadomski, AM., Scribani, MB., Krupa, N., et al. (2015). Pet dogs and children’s health: opportunities for chronic disease prevention? Chronic Dis. 12: E205, doi: 10.5888/pcd12.150204
- Tuber, D., Hennessy, MB., Sander, S., et all (1996). Behavioral and glucocorticoid responses of adult domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to companionship and social separation. Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol 110(1), Mar 1996, 103-108. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0735-7036.110.1.103