Love Is A Four-Pawed Word
This week is all about the love. Telling our loved ones how much they mean to us and with Pet Theft Awareness Day on Valentine’s Day, it includes our precious dogs too.
It is also the start of Chinese New Year on Friday 16 February, with this year being the Year of the Dog. Each year the Chinese New Year changes animal and the dog, is the eleventh sign of the Chinese zodiac.
Anyone who owns a dog will instantly recognise the characteristics of a person born in the Year of the Dog. Their most defining characteristic is loyalty, they will never abandon their family, friends or work. They are popular in social circles, honest and fair. Everyone needs a Dog friend for help and advice. Sound familiar?
Dogs & Humans
Dogs, men’s best (and oldest) friend. Today the most popular animal to be kept by humans are dogs, they have been part of human life going back some 30,000 years! Alongside us for 10,000 and today, they are an integral part of our families.
In the UK there are approximately 9 million dogs, 9 million! In the US the dog population is a staggering 70,000,000! So, I think it is safe to say that dogs play a huge part in our lives and not just as pets.
Initially, dogs were used to help with hunting, but over thousands of years, they became more domesticated, living along side us in our homes. As a result, we found that dogs can carry out many different roles; therapy dogs, assistance dogs, guide dogs, medical alert dogs, bomb disposal dogs, search & rescue dogs, herding dogs, sledding dogs, truffle sniffing dogs, hunting dogs, police dogs, water rescue dogs and show dogs, to name but a few.
Most dogs, however are companions, pets;
‘A domestic or tamed animal kept for companionship or pleasure.’
Many are considered part of the family. Are treated like one of the family. Dog owners change their whole way of life to accommodate these wonderful animals (I know we did!). They change their holidays, so their dogs can go with them (dog-friendly cottages anyone?). They change their social life, so their dogs can join them (dog-friendly pubs anyone?). To many people, their dog is their whole world.
Am I being too gushy? Most probably, but that is because our life has changed, for the better, since bringing, Barney, then Sandy, into our lives.
Why We Love Dogs
Every week there’s a story in the media about how good dogs are for our health. As dog owners, we don’t need science to ‘prove’. We already know it.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~ Roger Caras
Unconditional Love ~ Dogs have no care for material things, they aren’t bothered whether we are a street cleaner or a CEO, whether we have red or blonde hair, whether we are tall or short, whether we can run a marathon or too unwell to walk them. They just love us how we are. They do not judge us, do not bear grudges, they are never angry with us, they are quick to forgive, they trust us. They teach us the most important love of all, to love ourselves, unconditionally as we are.
Always Happy To See Us ~ Whether you are away for 1 minute, 1 hour, 1 day or 1 week, your dog will always be happy to see you. They will welcome you with such joy that you cannot help but smile and be happy. Their wiggly bums (Barney), their wagging tails, barks of delight (Sandy) and presenting you with their favourite toy (Barney), as you walk through the door really lifts your spirits. It doesn’t matter how rotten your day or your commute home was. Coming home to a dog will always cheer you up (unless they have chewed your favourite shoes, and even then, how can you possibly stay angry with them?). So, owning a dog, makes us more happier.
They Love Being With Us ~ Dogs are never happier, calmer or more relaxed than when they are with us. We are their world and so, they want to be with us, even if that does mean following you into the loo every time!
Lowers Our Stress Levels ~ Studies have proved that owning a dog lowers our blood pressure and cortisol levels, just by stroking them, playing with them and talking to them. It also reduces their anxiety and stress too. This is why so many dogs are used as therapy dogs, in hospitals, care homes and more recently for dementia patients. Being around dogs is good for our health and increases our life expectancy.
Encourages Us To Be More Active ~ Dogs need exercise, otherwise they can get bored and can be destructive. Humans needs exercise too, it’s good for our general health. It has been proved that exercise, being outdoors, has many benefits not just physically but psychologically.
Getting out in the countryside, in nature, is exciting for dogs and us too, you start to realise you know the names of trees, flowers and bugs you discovered as a child. You find places you didn’t know existed, when you have a dog, a whole new world opens up to you. Green parks, ancient woodland, long blustery beach walks and hikes up hills and mountains.
Just 30 minutes of brisk walking a day, is beneficial for your health. For many dogs, 30 minutes is enough for one day, but most need a minimum of two 30 minute walks a day. Different routes, time to sniff and interact with other dogs, off lead is great, for a good run around (hopefully, you aren’t chasing after them!).
Less Susceptible To Illness and Allergies ~ Dog owners experience fewer health problems. We tend to have lower cholesterol levels than non-dog owners. Our dogs expose us to a lot of germs, which can help build up our immunity to disease and allergies. So, we get sick less often and have an increased immunity to pet allergies.
We Are More Sociable ~ The first thing I noticed about owning a dog, is that dog owners are, in the main, a friendly bunch of people. There’s nothing they love more, than to stop and chat, tell you about their dog and ask you about yours. Many of them have heart warming stories of their beloved dog. In fact, I don’t know the names of many of the people I meet regularly on our walks, but I definitely know their dog’s names!
Great For Children ~ A dog can become a child’s dearest friend, we all remember our first family dog. The joy of playing and having fun with them. We learn responsibility, empathy, trust and loyalty. Therapy dogs go into schools, helping children with reading and they go onto children’s wards helping calm young patients.
Loyalty ~ Some may say that dogs are only loyal to us because we feed them and give them a warm, cosy home. However, there are many stories over hundreds of years, demonstrating the extraordinary relationship humans and dogs have shared. Dogs never leaving their owner’s grave, saving their owner by dragging them to help, raising the alarm by barking and the guide dog that went back into the World Trade Centre to guide his blind owner to safety down the emergency stairwell, before the tower collapsed, unwavering loyalty.
Living Life In The Moment ~ One of the biggest things I have learnt from Barney and Sandy, is to live in the moment, which I feel has helped tremendously with my recovery of ME/CFS. Before we had dogs, I was always busy and my mind was always busy. Busy thinking, of my to-do list, the next thing, what I should be doing and what I wish I was doing.
I never believed I was stressed at all but I realise now, that I was most definitely stressed. I was living on adrenalin, which is not good for your overall wellbeing, at all. I have learnt to relax my body and mind, which I never used to do, with the help of Barney and Sandy. When they rest, I rest, properly rest, just like they do. When we are walking, I am walking with them, I interact with them and aware of the birds singing and my surroundings. I take time to get down on the floor and play with them. They have been my constant companions through this illness and into my new way of life.
Having a dog in your life, enhances every aspect of your wellbeing; mind, body and spirit. With your dog by your side, you will lead an enriched and longer life full of unconditional love and loyalty – where else can you find this?
“A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”
~ Marley & Me
What has your dog taught you? We’d love to hear your stories.