Having had our two whippets Frankie and Bruno for over 14 years, losing them both within 3 months of each other, and welcoming George (another whippet – well, what else! ) into our lives just last weekend I have pondered the reason Why are dogs so important to humans?
It is thought that the relationship between dogs and humans goes back for more than 13,000 years. It started with wolves hanging out near humans – probably for food – but then man discovered the power of companionship with a four legged friend and allegedly bred the most tame wolves and these evolved into dogs.
There have been many studies on this unique inter species relationship. Many have concluded that:
Dogs are good for your health
Dogs enable you to be more social
Dogs are great companions
Dogs can help to ease depression
Dogs can delay or reduce dementia & detect illness
Dogs are proven mood enhancers
In fact I know all of these to be true. Not because of some fancy study, but just because I have been lucky enough to have had dogs in my life and after our recent short time without, always will.
One of the things I miss the most when not having a dog around is that I walk a lot LESS than I know to be good for my health. I’ve always been a walker and I know that walking without a dog just isn’t as much fun. George is only 11 weeks at the time of writing so he won’t be going out on walks for a couple more weeks, but it is one of the things that I most look forward to. I have really missed seeing the seasons change this year and getting my lungs full of fresh country air. Frankie & Bruno walked much less towards the end and this meant that we didn't go out on our twice daily strolls. I have felt my mood drop in relation to the amount that I walked over the last twelve months or so, in fact I have stopped looking at my step counter! Dogs are known to ease depression and so is physical exercise, so it's no surprise that getting out there with your dog can help lift your mood.
Dog walkers meet other dog walkers, dogs are great conversation starters, even for the most shy, being social is known to be necessary for well being. How many of you know the local dogs names but not their owners? I talk to the dog first and if we happen to see a whippet, well, the dogs get social before the owners have caught up! Social isolation is a big problem in our society and with many more people living alone, this is an issue that won’t go away, just proving how much humans need to socialise, having a dog makes this easier.
The companionship you can get from a dog cannot be gained from any other animal. This is due to the centuries of adapting to living together. Dogs are the only animal other than humans to display abstract behaviour – meaning that if you point at something your dog will look at the thing you are pointing at, not your finger, showing just how much dogs have evolved to communicate with us. This trait does not exist in wolves. So when our ancestors started to breed the friendlier wolves they were really onto something!
Dogs have the ability to recognise faces; I always thought it was the way I smelt! This is thought to be unique to dogs and humans and is something else that helps to bond us. Eye contact with your dog is a huge mood enhancer, helping the communication between you. Dogs also speak with their voices, they bark for several reasons whilst wolves only bark as a warning, dogs bark out of sheer joy to let us know they are happy. They also use their voice to let us know they are sad. Puppies learn very quickly that a little bark can gain your attention!
Dogs are able to help those in need. Both Frankie and Bruno were Pets as Therapy dogs. We got Frankie as a rescue when she was just 9 months old, but noticed inspite all her fears and worries she would be the one that would approach an elderly person or child with a smile and a wagging tail. My autistic nephew hated dogs, he was scared of other family dogs, but when he first met Frankie there was an immediate bond. She made the lives of many elderly people better on her frequent visits to a care home, for just being there. There are dogs that can smell diseases, in fact there are many stories of dogs giving warnings that their human is unwell long before they know it themselves, maybe proving that they are looking out for us as much as we are them and that the bond we feel is just as strong to them as it is to us.
Having had a mother who recently died of dementia and for many years struggled with bi-polar disorder, I really hope the fact about reducing depression and dementia is true! In fact when I was visiting the care home with Frankie and Bruno many of the residents had always had dogs in their lives, very few had dementia, just failing physical health. Having a visit from Frankie always made them happy, and in turn made me happy. Frankie would sleep in her bed next to my mothers in the last few months of her life, and mum took so much comfort from it, in fact on one occasion when we didn't take the dogs her first words were 'where are the dogs?' - she had not spoken to anyone for over a month.
George has been with us less than a week, and I already know that dogs are great mood enhancers! I hadn’t realised just how sad we had become, I put it down to us still grieving, in fact the week before he came, even though we have known we were getting him for weeks and had met him several times, both David and I felt incredibly sad for the two we had lost, the times we had with them. We felt a sense of betrayal that we were going to love another dog. We put off getting anything he needed until the very last few days, and with trepidation collected and brought him home. We need not to have worried – he has restored the happiness in our lives in a way we never thought possible. The laughter and joy has come back and we have so much to look forward to in this new chapter of our lives. We can put up with a bit of sleep deprivation, a few accidents in the house and the odd chewed shoe because we know that having a dog in our lives will make us happier, healthier and more social.
Dogs don’t judge us; they listen to us but don’t answer back! They are incredibly easy to love. Apparently puppies have a way of making us love them, much the same as babies do – this I can certainly vouch for. Studies have shown that when you cuddle or stroke your dog oxytocin, a natural mood enhancer, is released and with around 24% of British households having a dog that makes for an awful lot of happiness!
I know that none of this will be news to anyone who already has a dog in their life. For some it is not possible to own a dog, but if you love dogs, you will one day find a way to share your life with one, or maybe volunteer for a charity such as the Cinnamon Trust who help with dog walking for owners who may have become to frail or ill to do it themselves.
Dogs are so much more than Mans Best Friend and I would like to say how grateful I am to our ancestors for letting those wolves into their lives all those years ago!