Happy October 1st and happy “National Walk Your Dog Week.” Yep, there’s an official week for walking your dog and I say “amen!”
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a dog lover. Make that major dog lover. Okay, make that dog obsessed. All my life I’ve had a dog, whether it was Peppy the poodle when I was a toddler or Boomer, my Jack Russell rescue, a dog has always been in my life. After Peppy there were Fula, Sabrina, Boots, Bailey, Concha, and Biskit. I adored them all. Dogs are, after all, man’s best friend, right?
Dogs are also healers. Simply caring for a dog can reduce anxiety, brighten a mood and reduce stress. But don’t just take this dog lover’s word for it, study after study have proven that canines can and do make life better. As I like to say about Boomer, “who rescued who?!”
“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” Ben Williams
One study showed that within 10 minutes of looking into a dog’s eyes or petting a dog, the brain gets neurochemical bursts of oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine and endorphins, all chemicals that make us happy and relax us.
Other studies suggest that living with a dog reduces the symptoms and severity of depression and also boosts one’s immune system, reduces blood pressure, and lowers heart rates. Kind of amazing, right?
A British hospital actually “prescribes” a dog for male patients who have suffered heart attacks and following these doctor’s orders has found that the chances of a second heart attack in these men dropped 400 percent! 400 percent!
“If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.”
Owning a dog is known to help you better maintain an active lifestyle and retain a healthy weight. Dog owners are said to be both emotionally and physically healthier and have lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Maybe dogs are so good at giving love because it is said that when a dog sees its owner its brain secretes the same substances ours do when we are in love. In short, your dog is truly in love with you!
“The reason dogs have so many friends is because they wag their tales instead of their tongues.”
An Ohio high school and a Houston non-profit are both participating in programs aimed at improving school safety by “employing” dogs that can detect guns and drugs in classrooms, hallways, and parking lots.
A study published by “Pediatrics” journal found that children who live with dogs during their first year of life got sick less often than kids from dog-less homes. The research revealed that the dirt and microbes brought in the house by Fido actually bolster helpful bacteria in a child’s immune system. In fact, babies who lived with dogs were 31 percent more likely to be in good health than those who didn’t, 44 percent were less likely to develop ear infections, and 29 percent were less likely to need antibiotics during their first year of life.
One Virginia family discovered that a dog could predict when a seizure was imminent in their young son, resulting in a book about a seizure-sniffing dog. The book has raised funds to help other families purchase similar dogs.
I volunteer at the Austin Dog Alliance and the reason I chose them over other dog organizations was because of their therapy dog program. One of the programs uses dogs to calm autistic children, teach them social skills, and provide training needed to land a job. I’ve worked with this program and was totally surprised at how quickly a dog can calm a child down and help him or her focus.
ADA also offers the “Bow Wow Reading” program, which is designed to help below grade level readers improve their skills. I wrote about the program for an ADA publication and, while doing research on the subject, loved learning that a University of California study found that young students who read out loud to dogs improved their reading skills by 12 percent over the course of 10 weeks, while children in the same program who didn’t read to dogs showed no improvement.
A dog’s calming presence is perhaps the key to the program’s success, as one of the biggest challenges to get kids to read is often helping them overcome the embarrassment of making mistakes. Reading to dogs provides the perfect solution as they offer a non-judgmental environment as well as a comforting friend who listens even when the reader stumbles on certain words.
Therapy dogs are nothing new. Seeing eye dogs and service dogs have been around forever. Firefighters once used Dalmatians to both protect their trucks and “sound” an alarm and police officers still use our four-legged friends for a variety of jobs. If you look even further back in history, you will find the connection between healing and dogs just as prevalent as today. The Mayans believe each person was assigned a “soul animal” and Florence Nightingale recommended small pets for the chronically ill.
Visit any hospital or nursing home and you’ll find therapy dogs in the rooms of people of all ages. I remember when Kristen had surgery when she was in first grade, one of the brightest moments in recovery was a visit she had from a dog and its trainer. A dog’s ability to either engage a person or relax one makes for the perfect partner in disaster relief as well. Servicemen and women are uniquely attached to their “war dogs” and many 9/11 families of victims were consoled by specially trained dogs.
“Dogs are not our whole life but they make our lives whole.” Roger Caras
What I love most about dogs is their undying loyalty and unconditional love. I know that when I walk in the door Boomer is going to show how super excited she is to see me whether I’ve been gone a minute or a month. According to “Live Happy” magazine, dogs essentially represent a “steady diet of happiness” and I couldn’t agree more. Now I’m going for a walk with Boomer!
Things We Can Learn From a Dog
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a ride and feel the wind in your face.
When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Let others know when they have invaded your territory.
Stretch before getting up.
Eat with gusto.
If what you want is buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, sit close by and nuzzle them.
Avoid biting when a growl will do.
When you’re happy, show it.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.