The Therapeutic Power of Your Relationship With Your Dog

dog therapy The Therapeutic Power of Your Relationship With Your Dog

Dapple, with my wife Cathy

When our Dachshund’s discomfort crossed the line into suffering several years ago, my wife and I made the tearful decision millions of Americans face each year — we had him euthanized. I then took the video clips I had of Dapple, stirred our tears into the clarinet swooning of Kenny G, and recorded a voice-over proclamation that  “dog is God spelled backward, since God is love and a great dog is an earthly extension of that love.”

Grieving the loss of a surrogate child, perhaps? If you have a dog, I’m sure you understand.

The following Father’s Day my wife commissioned a painting of Dapple, a Robert McClintock-like masterpiece, although done by a neighbor. It adorns the wall of my man cave, uhm, I mean, the wall of our lounge area in the basement.

The relationship between human beings and dogs has long been recognized. Throughout history, dogs were found to be beneficial in a number of ways; most notably, for protection. Their keen senses and instinct have proven very useful in hunting also. Humans began domesticating dogs of many different breeds based upon their vast skills, from fetching, to protection, tracking, herding, sled pulling and companionship.

But from wagging tails and the affectionate lick on the face, from the time of pyramids and emperors dogs have also functioned to melt hearts, lift spirits and brighten days. Loving a dog is therapeutic.

Health Enhancement

Although evident in other animals as well, dogs are known to have a sixth sense. This is one area where animals often exceed the abilities of humans. This could be one of the reasons that scientific evidence has supported the positive effects that dogs can have on people’s health. Their intuitive nature fosters their ability to seemingly empathize in unusual ways.

Simply by petting an animal, the human body responds with production of oxytocin hormone, nicknamed the “love hormone” for its effect on certain close interactions between humans. Since oxytocin has very calming effects, these feelings of tranquility can also be associated with improved physical and emotional states. In addition, there are beneficial physical effects such as reduced stress, which is known to decrease triglycerides and lower blood pressure. Those two aspects alone are well worth noting, since they contribute to so many illnesses such as heart disease.

Canine Companion

The nature of dogs can vary according to their breed and disposition. Many dogs provide comfort, exuding what seems to be an innate warmth conveyed as gentleness and caring. This can provide comfort and promote healing of various physical maladies in humans.

Coming in all shapes and sizes and many dogs welcome a great deal of human contact. These types of dogs are friendly and remain at ease in different social situations and settings. However, they also may possess qualities that enable them to sense danger. This type of special companionship is not so common between human beings themselves. This is why the relationship between a person and their dog can be deeply emotional.

Therapeutic Treatment

The unique qualities of dogs are so beneficial that they are often used in therapy. As a result of the well-documented evidence concerning dogs and human health, they originally were engaged to sit alongside hospital chaplains. In order to expound upon the healing qualities that dogs naturally have, specialized programs to train dogs for therapy began in about 1976.

Since that time, both physicians and veterinarians have noted the enormous benefits of dogs in their professional practices as well as their personal lives. As a result, this human-animal relationship has been enlisted to enhance the daily lives of those in need of therapy through specialized visitation. Known as therapy dogs, they have become a widely used method of healing. These dogs, kept as household pets, make visits with their owners to people in need. These dog teams are trained to reach beyond the traditional forms of therapeutic treatment for more optimal healing.

The loyalty, companionship and protection that dogs provide are the basis of one of the best types of relationships. For many people, dogs provide a life-long commitment, proving that dog really is a man’s best friend.

Writer Terry Duschinski loved reviewing the Dog Collection of artist Robert McClintock in preparing this article.

Photo: by Terry Duschinski

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