How do our four legged friends help us?

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Pug dog

Fascinating, free spirited and forever friend.How the sweet characteristics of dogs benefits’ our everyday lives.

Prologue.

In this introduction to the positive impact of dogs I will be exploring the numerous ways in which dogs enhance our quality of life (both mentally and physically). The therapeutic value of our relationship with our pets, particularly dogs, is increasingly recognised by researchers.  Marion Janner, a mental health campaigner and all-round animal lover, says that dogs teach us a whole range of lessons. “Dogs love us unconditionally. They’re the ultimate in equal opportunities – entirely indifferent to race, gender, star sign, CV, clothes size or ability to throw cool moves on the dance floor.”  The simplicity and depth of this love gives us daily serotonin, along with the health benefits of daily walks encouraging socialisation.

Context.

What is responsible for these therapeutic effects? One a key aspect is social recognition. A small study of functional MRI brain scans in 18 women showed similar responses in regions involved in reward, emotion and affiliation when the women looked at images of their child and pet dog.  This profound connection is a catalyst for oxytocin, which has long been referred to as “the love hormone”. This hormone associated with connection and trust is released from the brain when you interact with your dog. This highlight’s that our physiological wellbeing can be boosted simply from the love dogs have for us.

Dogs fulfil the basic human need for touch. Even hardened criminals in prison show long-term changes in their behaviour after interacting with pets, many of them were experiencing mutual affection for the first time. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. Providing sensory stress relief when Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. When the Centre for Mental Health ran an evaluation on therapy dogs in prisons, the feedback was off the scale. “I don’t know what it is, but even when I am running around with [the dog] I just feel better inside, calmer, more peaceful,” said one prisoner. Another told the interviewer: “Dogs have a magic effect on you, you can feel their love and that just makes you feel better inside.”

Nothing compares to the joy of coming home to a loyal companion. “Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving,” says Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Centre in Bethesda, Maryland. “Their attention is focused on the person all the time.”  One example of the omnibenevolence of dogs is displayed through Kelsey: In the winter of 2017, a man slipped in the snow in the frigid Michigan wilderness and broke his neck. As he lay paralyzed, he believed he was fated to freeze to death. His golden retriever, Kelsey, however, was determined to save him. The Telegraph reported that Kelsey lay on top of her owner to keep him warm for a full 19 hours, barking incessantly until help arrived, long after her owner lost consciousness. In our mind dogs have reached a more of a human identification instead of an animal.

In addition to dogs helping relieve stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness, there are all the benefits that come from having to exercise a dog. Daily walks outdoors boost physical and emotional wellbeing. Chucking sticks, picking up balls can provide an all-round workout. A study in Western Canada found that men and women who took their canine companion out regularly engaged in roughly 300 minutes of walking per week compared to non-dog owners who only exercised half as much. Cardiovascular health is added factor which is increased when being a dog owner. The universal appeal dogs have on any generation embodies their selfless attitude-this can be solidified by the famous Josh Billings quote “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

Overview.

The higher levels of life satisfaction and decreased levels of isolation we gain from dog’s help eliminate everyday troubles. 91% of people in the UK say their dogs have made them a better person. Their infections attitude and simple outlook in life is something we could all learn from. They increase oxytocin production, which decreases stress and fear, and provides unconditional companionship to their owners. These things help with mental illnesses. The simple presence of a dog can help fight depression simply because of the increased levels of dopamine chemicals. Honestly? Gazing into your dog’s eyes may produce a more reliable sense of wellbeing than any commercially available synthetic product.

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