The Dog Days of Summer

Animals can help humans in lots of ways . . . Sometimes humans think they rescue animals, but often it's the other way around. Love, Your Favorite Blogging Owl

Did you know that oxytocin levels almost double in people – and in dogs -- when humans talk to and stroke their canine friends? Beta endorphins and dopamine levels supposedly increase, too. So, in the interest of science, my dog Buddy and I are increasing our efforts to generate those feel-good chemicals this summer.

I haven’t always been a dog person. Buddy, the 18-pound Lhasa Apso pictured here, was the first dog in my life in more than 30 years. He rules the house, but apparently that’s okay for the humans who live here, too. According to researchers, we feel better about ourselves if we have animals in our lives. I’ll try to remember that when Buddy wakes me up at 5 a.m. by barking at the wind.

Now that I’m a dog owner, I enjoy reading articles about dogs and scientific research. My favorites are the ones that say not only are dogs smart, they're smarter than cats.

According to one report, the average dog is at least as smart as a human two-year-old and can understand up to 250 words and gestures, do basic calculations, and count to five – although Buddy seems to have problems with the word “no.” Meanwhile, the research also shows a dog's social skills are at the teenage level. Having raised two teenagers, I can assure you my dog is far more sociable than any surly teenager who responds in monosyllables.

Research that especially generated controversy among cat lovers was conducted by Dr. Britta Osthaus of England's Canterbury Christ Church University, who tested the ability of cats and dogs to retrieve unreachable food from under a plastic screen. She found no cat consistently chose the string with the treat when there were two strings to choose from – unlike the dogs. Cat lovers claim the felines didn’t care about the food – or what people think -- while dogs always try to please humans. I wish someone had informed Buddy of this.

Whether you prefer canines or felines, you probably won't be shocked by the results of an Associated Press-Petside.com poll that found half of all American pet owners consider their pets as much a part of the family as any other member of the household, while another 36 percent say their pet is a member of the family, but not a full member. Most also admit to feeding them human food, nearly half give them human names, and a third let them sleep in their bed.

Buddy likes people food and I suppose his name could be considered human, but I vowed no dog would ever sleep with me. Don't even try to guess how long that lasted.

However, now that I know there are health benefits in having a dog nearby to talk to and pet in order to increase my oxytocin levels, I don’t feel so bad about it.

 

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