Scientific studies on the healing power of dogs – Part 4

Although most dog lovers have long extolled the medical benefits of dog ownership, it has been only a few years since reputable medical associations have studied this canine/human relationship with an eye toward understanding dogs’ healing powers.

We all recognize dogs as aides for the blind but the question probably should be: do dogs assist people in more ways than leading them safely down a street? Although I am not visually handicapped,I believe that if I was, and if I had a Seeing Eye dog, it would be a mental reprieve to know that I could depend on my dog. This alone would probably lower my blood pressure. The same idea holds true for any service dog, and, by extension, any person and dog partnership.

I grew up with dogs and my father often repeated the story about his German Shepard who mothered me, guarded me and stood patiently while I pulled her hair in my attempt to stand and walk. As Dad grew ill, I sometimes thought that telling this and other dog stories made him feel better, both physically and mentally as he appeared more lively and happy.

A recent study done in Melbourne, Australia indicated pet owners had lower cholesterol, blood pressure and heart attack risks. It would appear that their study helps support my theory about my Dad’s dog stories.

In another study, Japanese researchers found that dog owners had 30% fewer visits to the doctor.

The British Medical Journal reported a more specific study in which they found that dogs are able to alert diabetics of pending hypoglycemic episodes. In a similar 2003 study, the University of Florida reported that dogs can detect impending seizures.

Although all the evidence may not be in, it seems certain that dogs are a help to humans in more ways than guarding or herding. In fact, some prisons have instituted programs where selected inmates care for dogs and other animals. One such program trains dogs for the Seeing Eye Program at the Arizona State Prison near Kingman, Arizona. As the inmates help train dogs for visually impaired people, they learn to provide comfort and care for animals, frequently healing some of their mental problems. Similar programs have been initiated in most, if not all, states.

Apparently the American Psychiatric Association has not yet published the results of dog ownership on human health but they have an extensive section about dogs on their web site. You can take a quiz to determine the true age of your dog, and get professional advice on training and caring for your pets. This quiz is followed by a health quiz for people, which makes me wonder if they are gathering information to determine if there is a relationship between our health, both mental and physical, and owning dogs. They do suggest hugging your dog, or any affectionate animal, to reduce stress.

Companion dogs are trained to visit elderly people in nursing homes, as well as people in hospitals. The results of such visits are usually immediate and joyful for all. I can vouch for this reaction personally because my immediate reaction to my surgeon’s query about my well being was that I missed my dog. A few days later, my Border Collie entered the Cardiac Care Unit of a modern, metropolitan hospital. Patients and staff alike were pleased with the tail wagging, but well behaved, visitor who was eager to see her favorite human.

Dogs are aptly called man’s best friend, but I wonder who had the foresight to name these animals “dog”. They are the only creature on earth whose name spelled backwards is God and deservedly so as they give unhesitatingly of all their love and abilities. There is no doubt that dogs have healing powers, but it is gratifying to see more and more scientific studies to verify this.

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