Dogs Help Our Health

After a terrible and restless night of trying to sleep and my analyzing thoughts about a work situation keeping me awake, I rolled over in bed to stroke my two senior dogs lying curled up beside me.  Part of what had kept me awake was my blood pressure was up and I realized as I stroked my resting dogs that it had a significant calming effect on me.  One of my dogs has been with us for 12 years and remained quietly resting as I stroked her side and the other dog is 10 years old.  As I stroked my 10 year old dog she immediately rolled over for the obligatory belly rub….her absolute most favorite thing in the whole world.  I had to smile.

I started thinking about that tactile behavior we humans do in stroking our dogs.   I think for the most part we do it because it makes us feel good.  I know in that moment I started to feel better and it felt like my blood pressure started to go down.  There are some really neat research studies being done these days about the effects of the human and animal bond.  I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Dr. Rebecca Johnson from the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in Columbia, MO last month (  They are currently working on some very exciting research studies that analyze the positive effects that animals have on a human’s health.  Those effects are even wider reaching than just making us feel good.  The actual measurable health effects and benefits are amazing.  Among some of the many positive health benefits of owning a dog are lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower stress and lower depression.  For me, this makes me appreciate the animals that I have even more.

So back to the stroking behavior….while it is wonderfully beneficial for us humans, we do need to realize that our tactile behavior towards our pets should be monitored.  Not all dogs “enjoy” being petted and I know with certainty that had I chosen in that moment in the early hours of the morning to stroke my youngest senior dog, 8 years of age, he would have moved to go over to the other side of the bed!  Is this because he doesn’t like me?  No!  He does like me….especially when I have dry roasted chicken for him!  The point is that he likes his space and as a puppy he was a show dog and was touched ALL the time, so though he is used to being petted and is able to tolerate it from pretty much any person, he does not necessarily “enjoy” it.  If I did not understand where he is coming from then I might take it personally.  I have plenty of dog training clients who rescued dogs from situations where the dogs were conditioned not to enjoy the benefits of a relationship with a human.  They were either abused by humans or had a traumatic situation early on in life.  Those dogs may never fully enjoy being touched by a human but with patience and love they may come to tolerate it.

Bottom line, our animals make us feel good and that is a wonderful thing.  We also need to respect who they are and how they feel.  It must be a two way street.  So stroke your dog today, if he/she is okay with it, enjoy the positive feelings that come from that experience and thank your dog for having a great impact on your health.

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Positively Expert: Cathy Bruce, CPDT

Cathy Bruce is a VSPDT and a CPDT and the owner of Canine Country Academy, LLC in Lawrenceville, GA. After a successful career as a Broadway singer/actress, she decided to pursue her love of dogs. As a dog trainer, she strives to educate owners on how to better communicate with their dogs using only positive methods.


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