We’ve got a dog. In fact we’ve had it for three years and it’s our first. Not content with starting small, we jumped straight in and acquired a greyhound – an ex-racer. He’s big! It started with my partner looking over a website for dogs needing homes. She spotted one, contacted the person in charge of things, and we started planning.
The process began with us being grilled for an hour on the telephone. We were questioned and given advice – understandable. Our home was then inspected. The inspector brought along a huge greyhound, called Jumbo (naturally), which towered over our heads and panted nervously as we talked dogs. We passed whatever the test was and were then asked for a ‘donation’ of $230.00.
Man’s Best Friend
The reason for this preamble, okay ramble, is that my mind has been on man’s best friend for a few days. I started to think about the ways in which dogs provide various services beyond companionship and the list is extensive. A very quick search reveals the more obvious benefits of dogs, not necessarily dog ownership, in relation to search and rescue activities, specialist sniffers, and so on.
There are dogs for the blind and deaf, dogs to support people with learning difficulties, dogs for people with autism, for people with diabetes and much more besides.
Now, the emotional relationship between dogs and people is well known so the fact that this extends into a therapeutic relationship isn’t so surprising. Research into the positive nature of dog ownership also extends into anxiety and mood disorders and my take is that anything that helps is worth a look, or two.
Someone I know suffers with anxiety and depression – she also has two dogs. This person lives alone and the dogs provide much needed companionship. The dogs also have needs which means she has to take them out for walks, whether or not she wants to. Twice a day this lady gets fresh air and exercise when she might otherwise hide away.
There’s little doubt in her mind that caring for these animals provides her with a much needed focus and that her mood is so much better than it might otherwise be. It represents just one instance of an unsung therapeutic relationship and there must be countless others.
Lucy Ellsworth is a doctoral candidate at Washington State University. Lucy has been monitoring the effects dogs have on young people in residential settings being treated for ADHD, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. She was struck how bursts of hyperactivity in boys diminished, how sadness decreased and how positive emotions such as joviality, attentiveness and serenity increased.
Lucy is also interested in the chemistry of companionship and hypothesizes a release of dopamine and opioid’s in the brains of the boys as they anticipate the arrival of the dogs. It’s an interesting and useful line of enquiry. I hope we get to learn more of the effects if and when the study is extended.
A Two Way Relationship
The great thing about owning a dog (although some days it doesn’t feel like it) is that they have needs too. They need exercise, they need a bit of entertainment. They need feeding, grooming, and the occasional trip to the vet for a check over to keep them fit and well. One of the reasons they keep us fit and well is that many of these needs are good for us.
I know for a fact there are days I would normally just hunker down because it’s too wet or too cold. But Fido’s need their walks and once you’re out it’s uplifting. I always come back from a walk feeling pleased I went out.