Monday, April 21, 2014

The Human Dog Connection - Health and Happiness

Dog lovers have long recognized that their animals contribute more to life than entertainment, and research indicates they’re right. Quality dog time actually alters human brain chemistry, improves your mood, and raises both health and happiness.

If dogs make such marvelous contributions to the quality of human lives, humans ought to reciprocate in kind.

Changing the mind
Washington State University researchers conducted a small study on the human-animal connection in which one group of incarcerated boys spent an hour with shelter dogs while another played video games or basketball. The boys who interacted with the dogs were reportedly “more joyful … and calm … [and] outbursts and hyperactivity diminished.”

The regular interaction had a positive impact on depression, ADHD, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, all common problems at the Excelsior Youth Center.

Paying it forward
If science is indicating that dogs improve human health and happiness, then humans should feel an obligation to return the favor. Reciprocating the unconditional love of a dog with kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness is only the beginning.

Many dog breeds require both exercise and stimulating activities to ward off boredom and anxiety. The ASPCA, citing the fact that dogs have been bred for millennia to work, suggests that modern dogs suffer from a variety of problems because of inactivity.

The society recommends exercise as the ready fix for many common dog problems such as digging, chewing, raiding the garbage, predatory and aggressive play, or excessive barking.

Dog problems solved
The dog behaviorist Cesar Millan notes that dogs experience many of the problems they help humans overcome. The Wall Street Journal reported on Gunner, a bomb-sniffing dog working in Afghanistan who became so edgy from active duty that he was relieved of duty.

While most veterinarians wouldn’t go so far as to make a formal diagnosis of PTSD, the Marine Corps determined that Gunner’s wartime experiences had made him so anxiety-ridden that he became a liability in the field.

Walk, play, and play again
There are many stress-relieving human-dog activities that will benefit both. One of the most rewarding is rambling, whether across a mountainside or an urban park, as Katherine T of Active Hound brilliantly illustrates.

Dog and human can get that health-promoting exercise by playing any version of the throw-chase-run-and-jump game so beloved by dogs. While these games don’t necessarily require specially made toys, there are a huge number of proven exercise aids that make the human companion’s job of much easier, such as the Chuck-It! line of toys stocked by Active Hound.

Dog companions enrich the lives of their humans in so many concrete and intangible ways. They are confidants, confessors, partners in happiness and grief, and our touchstone for surviving the vagaries of life’s good and bad fortunes.

Recent scientific evidence suggests that they contribute far more than joy, however; interaction with a dog can change brain chemistry in positive ways. They do this for people with no argument and ask for very little in return: just a scratch, a pat on the head, a thrown ball, or a ramble.


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