Live Healthy: Love A Dog

Our physical and emotional health go hand-in-hand, or hand-in-paw, for those that love dogs. Interacting with a dog releases powerful chemicals in our brains: Endorphins, which produce feelings of confidence and well-being and Oxytocin, which increases feelings of attachment and trust. The physiological effects of these chemicals include lowering stress, increasing immune response, blocking pain perception, and healing wounds faster. Much of this information has been gleaned through research done with patients participating in Animal Assisted Therapy programs. Many patients with physical ailments also suffer from depression. This can interfere with their motivation to participate in physical therapy. The sessions are more enjoyable and interesting when they include a dog, and patients tend to participate more fully. This can accelerate their recovery and shorten their hospital time. The volunteer dog handler also benefits from the work they do, as studies have shown that helping others improves a person’s overall well-being.

The dog-human relationship benefits our health in ways we might not have expected. Studying the DNA of dogs is helping scientists understand aspects of genetics and evolution that may be helpful to curing disease in humans. Research is currently under way using dogs to assist in diagnosing certain cancers through their superior sense of smell. The military has begun using dogs’ service in the area of occupational therapy for the troops, helping them deal with sleep disorders and anxiety.

Dogs’ most admirable quality is their capacity for unconditional love. Dogs that suffer abuse and betrayal at the hands of those charged with their care, somehow manage to trust again and form new attachments. It is a heartening thing to witness, and quite the clever survival mechanism. Forgiveness is one of the healthiest things a person can do, and we can learn a lot from canines on this one.

Susan Claire is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and owner of PlayTrain, Positive Dog Training. She can be reached at 954-349-5969.

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