Dogs: Man’s best friend

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Dogs have a special chemistry with humans that goes back tens of thousands of years.

Human–Canine bonding is the mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between humans and dogs. There are 3 major theories concerning the human–canine bond.

The biophilia hypothesis believes that human relationships with non-human animals are driven by survival needs: assistance in acquiring food and safety. The domestic animal demonstrates how humans love life and want to support and sustain it.

The social support theory thinks that animals are a source of social support and companionship, which are necessary for well-being. In this view the animal is a part of our community.

In self psychology, (modern psychoanalytic theory with clinical applications) an animal can be a “self object” that gives a sense of cohesion, support, or sustenance to a person’s sense of self. It explains why some animals are so crucial to a person’s sense of self and well-being. The animal itself creates a human’s personality.

Dogs and Soldiers

Some 2,500 dogs have accompanied American warriors on patrol and in close combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tasks like bomb detection and protection demand dedication to their human handlers, with whom they often form a special bond in the face of danger. If you are ever feeling a bit down or sad just YouTube ’soldiers reunited with dogs’ and you will cheer right up. 

Many of the soldiers who return from combat suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental condition that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. In the US, in 2008, a program was launched in which Veterans suffering from PTSD spend time with a dog training it to become a mobility-assistance animal for a physically disabled veteran.The dogs draw out even the most isolated personality, and having to praise the animals helps traumatized veterans overcome emotional numbness. Researchers are accumulating evidence that bonding with dogs has biological effects, such as elevated levels of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin improves trust, the ability to interpret facial expressions, the overcoming of paranoia and other pro-social effects—the opposite of PTSD symptoms.

Additionally, Canine Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is now officially recognized by the military and is being taken very seriously. Signs of Canine PTSD include hypervigilance, increased startle response, attempts to run away or escape, withdrawal, changes in rapport with a handler, and problems performing trained tasks – like a bomb dog who just can’t focus on sniffing out bombs any more. In 2014, about 5-10% of the 1,700 military working dogs in service showed signs of Canine PTSD. Treatment for these cases also varies. Anti-anxiety medications can be used for short-term management, and for more difficult cases longer-term medications like antidepressants might be used. Generally, dogs are retrained to be desensitized to distressing events and situations. Veterinarians also employ “counter-conditioning to reinforce successful task behaviors”. Canines are brought to the Holland military working dog hospital in rare cases but generally they are assessed and treated either in the field, at their home station or at field training sites.

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Dog Therapy for the Elderly

The power of pet therapy is thought to be stronger than any medication, not only for people going through tough times or in poor health, but also for the elderly as well. Proven to increase mental alertness, build self-esteem, and decrease loneliness, pets can provide a warm and fulfilling relationship that older people desire. Not only do pets help the elderly overcome various health ailments, but also they can significantly decrease their owners’ sense of loneliness. As you probably already know, pets are automatic people magnets and are often a great conversation starter.

Even just owning a pet has been found to be beneficial. Dog ownership is associated with lower heart attack risks and increased survival one year after a heart attack. Older pet owners walk significantly farther when they walked with a dog, which might contribute to their making fewer visits to the doctor. The list of benefits includes reductions in loneliness, agitated behaviors, and depression, and increases in engagement, well-being, nutritional intake, and social interactions.

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Canine and Human Heartbeats

The experiment, jointly from Monash University in Australia and Pedigree Petfoods, took three pairs of dogs and their owners and hooked them all up to heart rate monitors. They separated the dogs from their owners and recorded the change in heartbeats as they were reunited. Within one minute, both heartbeats were seen to drop significantly and even appeared to mirror each other. Canine experts have found that the results showed how the dog-human relationship is mutually advantageous in lowering stress levels. It’s already been proven dogs can lower our heart rate, helping to reduce stress, but this new research suggests the dogs are also benefiting physically from the relationship.  For more information check out this YouTube video!

Stray Dogs in The Netherlands

The Netherlands was able to minimize the number of stray dogs over the last 200 years. Around 1800 almost all households in The Netherlands had a dog. At the beginning of the 19th century there were few official arrangements for dog keeping. Dogs usually walked around freely, they bred undisturbed. Some Dutch municipalities raised dog taxes in an attempt to regulate the number. However, this backfired as many people who couldn’t afford the tax simply abandoned their dogs. However, slowly and surely it became the opinion of the country that the dog’s well-being became an indicator for their owner’s well-being. This caused the perception towards animal welfare and its importance to change. Dogs well fed and groomed became symbols of wealth and this idea caused pets to be treated better and better. Social factors could also have played a role in this increased regard for dogs. One assumption is that birth reduction has influenced the way people think of dogs. Around 1800 families were still very large with many mouths to feed. Fathers and mothers were fully occupied by the worries for their children and having to feed all. Birth control and the pill lead to smaller families in the 1960s. This may have influenced the fact that dogs were more and more regarded as family members or children.

Street Dogs in Moscow

As of March 2010, there were an estimated 35,000 homeless dogs living within Moscow’s city limits, or approximately one dog for every 300 people, and about 32 per square km. Most dogs are born homeless, others arrive on the streets as rejected or abandoned house pets. Poyarkov estimates that fewer than 3 percent of abandoned pet dogs live long enough to breed. These ‘Street Dogs’  have specialized behaviors which differentiate them from both domesticated dogs and wolves. They live in packs and the pack’s leader will interact with other packs. The leaders are not necessarily the strongest or most dominant dog, but rather the most intelligent, and are acknowledged as such by the other dogs in the pack who depend on them for survival. The Moscow Metro is the second most heavily used in the world by daily ridership. On average, about 500 dogs live in its stations, especially during colder months. Of these dogs, about 20 are believed to have learned how to use the system as a means of commuting! For more information check out this YouTube video!

Dogs are very clever and adaptive animals that can survive and thrive challenging conditions. They have had a positive reciprocal relationship with humans for thousands of years, and hopefully will continue to do so. The question really is: why would anyone not have a dog? (unless they are allergic, then it is completely understandable.)

By Olivia Hobden

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