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Healing Dogs: The Therapeutic Benefits of Man’s Best Friend

Domestic dogs have lived with and among humans for thousands of years. Many have been bred to serve as hunting companions, helping to track down and kill food for a tribe or village. Others were bred to herd livestock. In the times before Jesus Christ walked our beautiful green Earth, the ancient Chinese and Japanese used dogs both as security (to guard the dynasties) and as some of the very first pets and social symbols. The ancient Romans even used an extinct breed, believed to be the predecessor to the Mastiff, in warfare, either as combatants or to sniff out the enemy so that they could be caught unaware. In modern times we still use dogs in law enforcement, to sniff out drugs or bombs, to help catch bad guys, and for hunting and herding. However, one aspect that might get overlooked is the role of the peaceful and non-aggressive dog as a caregiver and therapy aid.

You might ask how a dog could help in such a fashion. Well, surely you have petted a dog before. Just that act alone is enough to soothe not only the dog, but also you. It deepens the bond that the two of you share and certainly makes for a pleasant way to spend a little time. It relieves stress and raises both your mood and that of the dog. It is also part of the reason that so-called therapy dogs have become so prevalent in hospice and terminal care wards, as well other environments. Okay, so you believe that petting a dog makes you feel better. But what does it actually do for you? Not only can it lower your blood pressure and heart rate, but dogs have also been shown to help stave off loneliness and depression.

Have you ever visited a long-term care ward when a therapy dog was visiting? The mood of the patients quickly goes from despondent or indifferent to elated and joyful. Unless a patient simply does not like dogs, one can’t help but be enthralled by the bundle of furry energy and love that descends upon them. Therapy dogs are highly trained – held to the same standards as guide dogs – and their placid and compliant natures, coupled with the intelligence that makes them so trainable in the first place, makes them the ideal candidates to brighten a patient’s day, if only for a few hours.

Now, let us turn to a more personal scenario. Imagine yourself for a moment, living on your own, out off of the grid as you have been for quite some time (or are working your way toward). Life is good, you grow virtually everything you need, and all your energy, food, water and sewage needs are handily met. There is just one problem today. You are sick. You have the worst flu you can remember ever having. While you have all the herbs and supplements you need, something seems to be missing. But wait! Here is Samson, your loyal and lovable golden retriever. He has been your constant companion for years, and the bond that you two share is closer and tighter than ever. As you lay on the couch, suffering, he licks your hand and you stroke his long, glossy fur. After a light meal, perhaps a bowl of soup, you sit up to read and he jumps up besides you. When Samson rests his head in your lap, you know that not only is he going to stay put for as long as you want him to, he is commiserating with you in the only way he knows how. And wouldn’t you know it? The application of herbal remedies was helpful, but you know deep down that it was Samson’s constant companionship that made the most difference.

If you happen to have children, Samson is doubtless great with them too. Dogs love kids and thrill to the nearly boundless energy that children possess. However, when your son or daughter falls and scrapes his or her knees, or sprains his or her ankle, Samson is right there, comforting and soothing your kiddo until you can come help (if he isn’t actively seeking you out and bringing you back to the scene of the “oweee”). Now, if that is not love, we do not know what is. More than the salves you put on cuts, the bandages you wrap up sprained limbs with, the care Samson takes around your child can make all the difference in how long and how well your child recuperates.

Of course it goes without saying that if you do not like dogs or do not have the time, patience or ability to properly care for a dog, maybe man’s best friend, is not for you. After all, how can you expect the dog to help you if you do not help them? It really boils down to a simple trade. No, keeping a dog is not a straightforward and worry-free undertaking. But rest assured that he gets as much from your attention as you do from him. Dogs, especially those bred and trained for therapy use, love having tasks, things to do. It gives them purpose, a sense of belonging. When he has done well and you know it (and praise him accordingly) all is right in his world. Give him your love, devotion and the responsible care he needs, and Samson will help to prolong your life and get you past life’s rough spots in his own inimitable way. You could not ask for more than that.

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