Tag Archives: human-animal bond

My friend Spot

Spot, who was very special to me, passed away on 10 January 2023 after a short illness.

I am sure many would say that Spot is not a particularly original name for a dog, but it suited him. A greyhound, his race name was Inspector Spot and, as a white and black greyhound, he had many spots.

He was also Izzy’s best mate.

When they were out and about together, we would often be asked if they were mother and son, or littermates. No, we would reply, just good mates. Here’s just a few photos of their many cafe visits together.

Seeing them side by side, I often thought of the novelty salt and pepper shakers that you can buy: two white and black greyhounds. From a distance, such as when we let them off for a free run, we couldn’t tell one from the other.

Spot was a very good example of how dogs can bring people together. I met his Mum when Izzy and I did her home check for Greyhounds as Pets. During that first meeting, I was required to ask if the adopter had any preferences as to colour of their hound. As many of us know, white-haired dogs seem to shed a lot and this was true of Izzy. As Izzy was being patted and shedding unceremoniously on the carpet, I received the dry reply, “probably not white.”

We would laugh that, just weeks later, she showed up with her newly-adopted Spot at a greyhound group walk. Spot was the only match at the time she was adopting and, with his personality and charm, the issue of white hair and shedding was soon forgotten.

He was a keeper.

I now count Spot’s Mum as one of my closest friends. We have taken walks together, dined together, taken a short holiday in Hanmer Springs together. With few exceptions all of our activities have included Izzy and Spot and, since March 2022, Sox and Spot.

In 2018, Spot strutted the catwalk at my fundraiser for Greyhounds as Pets, Greyt Fashions. His coat, made from a repurposed candlewick bedspread, was one of my favourites.
Spot also came to doga class in early 2020

Just weeks before the global pandemic locked us down in March 2020, Spot and his Mum participated in filming of my online workshop for Greyhound Massage and Stretching.

Spot and his Mum were always invited to Izzy’s birthday parties, most of which occurred on the beach and one memorable birthday when we hired the Dog Swim Spa so Izzy’s friends could try swimming. Spot always enjoyed my doggy birthday cakes.

Spot also featured in Pet Life Magazine, in my column about dog-friendly dining

A particularly memorable outing with Izzy and Spot was to the Leeston Dog Park on a winter’s day. There were several large puddles in the park and Spot took the time to wallow in an invigorating mud bath.

When we volunteered one year at the Amberley Christmas Market for Greyhounds as Pets, Spot became fascinated by a cat which wasn’t moving. It was a garden ornament fixed to the top of the fence.

Occasionally, I would do “A Spot of Daycare” which allowed Spot and Izzy to enjoy each other’s company during the day without doing anything particularly special. It didn’t even matter when I noticed that Spot was killing off some of my plants – showering them with love, his Mum would say.

Spot wasn’t always happy with my small two-seater sofa and we would joke about his obvious displeasure at my substandard couch

Spot on my substandard couch

….until his Mum replaced her furniture and Spot had to become accustomed to a two-seater at home, too.

Spot was retired from racing after suffering a broken hock, which was repaired surgically. For this reason, he became a regular client in my massage practice soon after he was adopted. He particularly enjoyed a warm wheat bag when his muscles were tight. Warmth worked wonders for him.

Last year, 2022, was a year of transition. Izzy passed away in December 2021 and I needed a dog to demonstrate at massage workshops. Spot stepped into this role, for which I will be forever grateful.

Spot (top photo) at his first massage workshop in 2022. He took over the role of demo dog after Izzy (bottom photo) passed away

When I signed a sponsorship agreement for Greyhound as Pets in 2022, we used Spot to feature in the advertisement for the sponsorship.

When Sox arrived on the scene in March, Spot was gently mentoring him in greyhound pet life. Yoda to my Luke Skywalker, a Greyhound Master.

Perhaps the most bittersweet of memories I have of Spot is from our time together in October last year. His Mum had to go out of town at short notice, with Spot staying with us for over two weeks. Spot slotted right into our routines, hassling me for morning walks alongside Sox when I was trying to tie my shoes, hunting a hedgehog together (I am quite sure that Spot encouraged Sox to pick it up while he looked on innocently in the background), and making trips to the red zone for off-lead walks. While Sox slept on the sofa, Spot slept on a dog bed in my bedroom. On several occasions, he cuddled up in bed with me, too.

Spot and Sox, awaiting dinner

I would later say when his Mum returned to collect him that I would always cherish the close time we had together, not knowing when I said it that Spot would be gone within a matter of weeks.

Spot’s last official event for The Balanced Dog was at my stand at the Women’s Lifestyle Expo in late October.

We had planned to use Spot’s love of the beach (taught to him by my water-loving Izzy) to teach Sox to love the beach this (southern hemisphere) summer. Sadly, it was not to be.

Spot was a pet for just over five years; reflecting on all the things we have done together and many happy memories, it seems like he has been a part of my life for a lot longer.

Is it possible to love a dog that is owned by someone else as much as your own? Yes, I think it is, particularly going by the number of photographs of Spot that I had on my phone and computer. Time has slowed to a crawl since Spot passed away and I have placed a photo of him in frame next to one of Izzy so that when I light a candle at night, it shines for both of them in case they want to come for a visit.

He should have been with us for much longer. Izzy made it to almost 13, Spot was taken from us at age 10. I think that is what makes his loss even harder.

Spot, I hope you are up there with Izzy enjoying a summer day at the beach. I miss you dearly and promise to look after your Mum. Sox and your other greyhound friends will give her lots of cuddles in the days to come.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Pets Belong with Families Act

Across the USA, demand for public housing is increasing because of the rapid rise in the cost of living. Unfortunately, housing authorities can impose restrictions on families that require housing with their pets. Breed specific restrictions and higher rentals for pet-owning families are too common.

Everyone deserves to have access to the benefits of pet ownership. The ASPCA has continued to work to advance policy solutions that would increase pet-friendly housing and help keep pets and people together. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) already manages pet-friendly housing within its portfolio of programs, including its public housing program. While regulations require public housing authorities to allow pets, public housing authorities can impose restrictions based on a dog’s breed and size and charge residents more money if they have a pet.

The Pets Belong with Families Act was introduced to Congress last year and, if law, will remove broad and unfounded restrictions on pets in public housing to help ensure that housing is available to eligible families, regardless of their pet’s breed or size. 

Voters in the USA should urge their members of Congress to support H.R. 5828, the Pets Belong with Families Act. Encourage your vet to advocate through their professional networks to help pass the Bill, too.

Sources: ASPCA, Best Friends

This Specific ‘Pet Parenting Style’ Seems to Make Dogs More Secure And Resilient

(FilippoBacci/E+/Getty Images)

How you ‘parent’ your pooch has an impact on the kind of dog it grows up to be, a new study shows. An owner who’s highly responsive to a dog’s behavior and needs tends to lead to a more social, secure, and smart canine.

Parenting styles and choices are known to influence the way that children develop and grow. Researchers are now discovering more about a somewhat similar relationship between owners and their pets.

The researchers recruited 48 dog owners and their pets, asking them to complete a pet parenting style survey before participating in three behavioral tests in the lab, assessing attachments and interactions between the dogs and their humans.

“We found that pet parenting style does predict patterns of dog behavior and cognition,” says animal behaviorist Monique Udell from Oregon State University.

“This an important finding because it suggests that dog owners who take the time to understand and meet their dog’s needs are more likely to end up with secure, resilient dogs.”

Based on the initial surveys, researchers put the dog owners into three categories, similar to categories used in human parenting research: authoritative (high expectations, high responsiveness), authoritarian (high expectations, low responsiveness), and permissive (low expectations, high responsiveness).

The three behavioral tests covered attachment (how the dog responded to its owner during close interactions), sociability (how the dog responded when a stranger and its owner traded places with one another in the testing room, and problem-solving(challenging the dog to get a treat from a puzzle with either no interaction at all or verbal encouragement and gestures from the owner).

Overall, dogs with authoritative owners had the highest rate of secure attachment and were highly social and sensitive to social context, compared to dogs with authoritarian or permissive owners. What’s more, the only dogs to solve the puzzle task came from the authoritative group.

The study matches up in some ways with previous research into parents and kids; specifically that children with authoritative parents are more likely to show secure attachment, thought to be because of the consistent, reliable support they get.

“This research shows that the pet dog-human caretaker bond may be functionally and emotionally similar to the bond between a human parent and their child,” says behavioral scientist Lauren Brubaker from Oregon State University.

The research opens up some interesting new questions – why, for example, did the dogs with permissive owners respond to the social cues of the stranger they were with but not their owner in one of the tests?

For now, though, the study is enough to show that there is some kind of relationship between the approach we take as dog owners and the way that those dogs then behave, even with numerous other factors in play.

“More research in this area is needed, especially replications with larger sample sizes and across different populations and cultures,” write the researchers in their published paper.

“However, our findings suggest that in the sampled population pre-existing dog–owner relationship quality served as a significant predictor of dog behavior across all three domains.”

The research has been published in Animal Cognition.

Source: Science Alert

Why petting a dog is good for your brain

  • A new study measured the effects of petting a dog on human brain activity.
  • Dogs have previously been shown to reduce stress, but the neurological mechanisms haven’t been studied.
  • Many current and potential therapies incorporate the use of animals, especially dogs.
Photo credit: Westend61/Getty Images

It’s long been said that dogs are “man’s best friend.”

Now, a new study conducted in Switzerland suggests that dogs can be good for our brains.

Researchers recruited 19 healthy adults (9 women and 10 men) to have their brain activity measured over several sessions, both with and without being in the presence of a dog.

The researchers said the results could improve the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapies used to treat many conditions, including:

So how was the study performed? And what were the results?

A new approach

Previous studies into the physiological effects that dogs have on humans often used imaging technology such as PET scans — no, not that type of pet but positron emission topography.

While imaging scans have a variety of medical uses, they do have some drawbacks in a study such as this one. They can be loud, and lengthy, and participants may need to remain still.

These are not characteristics that generally pair well with dogs, so previous studies frequently used pictures of dogs as stand-ins.

In this study, researchers opted to use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Two electrodes were placed on participants’ foreheads to measure prefrontal cortex activity.

This area of the brain plays an important role in social cognitive processing.

Participants were measured first in a neutral state, facing a white wall. Then measurements were taken as contact with a dog was progressively introduced.

First, the participants could see the dog, then sit beside it, and finally pet it before returning to a neutral state. None of the participants had any dog allergies or phobias.

These measurements were taken across 6 sessions for each participant: 3 with a dog, and 3 with a plush animal. The plush held a hot water bottle within it to give it more weight and warmth.

Three actual dogs were used, all females ages 4 to 6. There was a Jack Russel, a goldendoodle, and a golden retriever.

The results showed that brain activity increased substantially through the progressive phases of the experiment and oxygenated hemoglobin remained elevated (indicating increased activity) even after the dog left.

The plush had similar effects but only at first. Researchers said that as participants returned for more sessions, the difference in brain activity between dog and plush sessions significantly increased.

A valid study

This study found a novel application for fNIRS, but is it a good tool for the job?

Yes, it is, according to Dr. David A. Merrill, a psychiatrist and the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

“fNIRS is valid. There are decades’ worth of study using the technique measuring brain activity. [It] affords a view into the brain based on blood oxygenation without the need for a big, immobile scanner,” Merrill told Healthline.

Jen Summers, PsyD, a utilization review specialist at Los Angeles-based Lightfully Behavioral Health, told Healthline she agreed the fNIRS is a valid measurement tool but noted other areas she would like to see explored in more detail.

As an example, Dr. Summers pointed out that Labradors are the most common dog breed for therapeutic visitation animals, but none were included in this study.

“The study participants were ‘healthy subjects,’ however, the study did not define ‘healthy.’ It would be curious for future research to determine if participants with known medical conditions (i.e. anemia, autoimmune diseases, or anyone with noted deficits in oxygenated hemoglobin) would have increased frontal brain activation compared to their baseline,” said Summers.

Putting it into practice

Putting these study results to work is of interest across the medical community.

Dr. Joey R. Gee, a neurologist with Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline that dog-assisted therapies are “valuable for many chronic disorders and may be employed in settings where ‘calming’ is needed, such as with children and in long-term care facilities.”

Merrill agreed.

“Pets such as dogs can and should be considered as an important therapeutic option for patients of all ages going through any number of physical or mental health issues,” he said.

Experts noted that one interesting aspect of the study was the increased effect of multiple sessions with a dog.

“Exposure and experience foster familiarity. Psychology studies have consistently demonstrated how the mere exposure effect influences a familiarity preference: we prefer things we are familiar with versus those which are novel,” said Summers.

“This certainty and comfort are undoubtedly bidirectional such that not only do we respond more positively, the dog also tends to respond more positively to humans they are bonded to securely,” said Merrill.

Source: Healthline.com

Journal reference: Effects of contact with a dog on prefrontal brain activity: A controlled trial

Affection from a dog really is medicinal, according to a new study

Dogs may also be a doctor’s best friend.

For patients suffering from pain in the emergency room, just 10 minutes with a four-legged friend may help reduce pain, according to a study published Wednesday.

The results support what dog lovers everywhere have long suspected — canine affection cures all ills — as well as provides a bit of optimism for patients and health care providers frequently grappling with strapped hospital resources in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is research showing that pets are an important part of our health in different ways. They motivate us, they get us up, (give us) routines, the human-animal bond,” said lead study author Colleen Dell, the research chair in One Health and Wellness and professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, asked more than 200 patients in the emergency room to report their level of pain on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 as the highest level of pain). A control group had no intervention for their pain, while participants in the other group were given 10 minutes of time with a therapy dog, and patients rated their pain levels again, according to the study.

Those who got the visit from the dogs reported less pain.

The study has a strong methodology, said Jessica Chubak, senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. Chubak, who was not involved with the study, noted that there is still a lot to learn about therapy dogs.

“The results of the study are promising,” she said in an email. “Our current understanding of the effects of therapy dog visits in emergency department settings is fairly limited. So, it is particularly important to have more research in this area.”

Dell hopes that research like this study means we can stop asking if therapy dogs are helpful in a medical context and start asking how they help and how to integrate them better with health care teams.

In the hospital

The emergency room experience might actually contribute to patients’ pain.

The bright lights, long waits, anxiety and focus on immediate, acute conditions can make the feeling worse, said Erin Beckwell, a dog owner who has experienced chronic pain for much of her life.

“It’s not a place that you usually get escorted to a comfy room that’s quiet and gives us any sort of specific interventions,” she said. “It’s often suggestions of things you’ve already tried, and then they send you home after a long time of distressing and anxiety-provoking, pain-filled waiting.

You may not come out feeling like you were even really heard.”

Some people have a misperception that utilizing therapy dogs can transmit disease and risk hygiene in a hospital setting, but Dell said there are ways health care providers can utilize them in sanitary ways to make the whole system operate better.

Mike MacFadden, a nurse practitioner based in Canada, said he sees a lot of potential in incorporating therapy dogs as part of a holistic approach to pain treatment in the emergency room, and that it could help everyone involved.

“Emergency service teams can feel conflicted and experience moral distress resulting from their inability to meet their own expectations for optimal care. With people’s experience of pain being multifaceted, we know that a multifacetedapproach is most beneficial to meet the needs of patients,” McFadden said. “The presence of a therapy dog not only has the benefits of supporting the patient’s experience, but I think it also serves as a comfort to the care providers.”

Hunter, a therapy dog, and his handler, Amanda Woelk, sit with Tyler Regier, 2, and his mother, Tina Regier, both of Overland Park, Kan., on Oct. 2, 2015, at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. (Allison Long/Kansas City Star/TNS)

In the home

Pain can be thought of as both a physical and social experience, said Michelle Gagnon, assistant professor of psychology and health studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Gagnon was not involved with the study.

Anxiety, depression, having support or being dismissed can all have an impact on how we experience pain, she said. It makes sense that spending time with a creature that brings you joy and doesn’t invalidate your feelings can help you feel better.

“The things that you can gain from pets and some of the positive emotions that could be elicited from having the pet around you I think could have an impact on the pain experience itself,” she said.

Beckwell said she has experienced it personally with her 10-year-old cocker spaniel, Reilly, as she has experienced arthritis and autoimmune disorders.

“I feel more in control of the situation and less panicked or anxious about the severity of my pain, the duration of my pain, those sorts of things when I have that unconditional support from my dog,” Beckwell said. “She will come in, and she has learned over the years when I’m in pain she can’t sit on my lap.

“I don’t need to tell her — she knows,” Beckwell said.

Source: CNN

Pets’ impact on human gut microbiome to be explored

Could pets offer “probiotic” benefits to their owners?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) are set to investigate whether pets could be a source of microbiota that can help restore deficiencies in their owner’s gut microbiome (i.e. collection of microbes in the intestines).

The study, which has received funding from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), will follow pet owners (60 years or older) who are taking antibiotics for dental implant placement. Antibiotics disrupt the native gut microbiome, HABRI reports, which can result in adverse outcomes, ranging from mild diarrhea to severe “C. diff” (Clostridioides difficile) infection.

Researchers hypothesize the gut microbiomes of owners and their pets will resemble each other prior to the course of antibiotics, diverge during the disruption phase, then steadily converge during the recovery phase.

“A growing number of studies have documented the ability of animal contact to impact the human microbiome in ways that may help prevent certain types of disease, such as cardiovascular disease and asthma,” says principal investigator, Laurel Redding, VMD, PhD, DACVPM, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Penn Vet. “In conducting this study, our goal is to shed light on the microbial exchanges that occur between pets and pet owners and assess whether pets can mitigate disruption of their owner’s gut microbiome following antibiotic therapy.”

Researchers say the study’s results could support the promotion of contact between older adults and household pets, HABRI reports.

“HABRI is proud to fund research that will contribute to our understanding of the physiological health benefits of the human-animal bond,” says the group’s president, Steven Feldman. “We know pets and people are good for each other, and it’s exciting we can still discover new evidence underlying this powerful, mutually-beneficial relationship.”

Source: Veterinary Practice News

Many new college students report pet separation anxiety

Pets are not the only ones who experience separation anxiety; their people do too.

Washington State University researchers surveyed a sample of new first-year college students leaving pets at home and found that 75% experienced some level of pet separation anxiety—with one in four reporting moderate to severe symptoms.

“Students who are struggling with missing their pets should know that they’re not alone,” said Alexa Carr, the lead author of the study which is part of her WSU doctoral dissertation. “There’s nothing necessarily wrong with them if they are experiencing a lot of distress from leaving their pets. It can be an isolating experience to lose that coping resource.”

The students who had higher anxiety tended to be those who treated their pets more like people, identifying them as friends, sleeping in the same room and generally spending a lot of time with them. Interestingly, students who had dogs at home also tended to report more attachment to their pets—and more separation anxiety—than those with cats and other types of pets.

While there are many anecdotal accounts of students missing their pets, the study published in Anthrozoos, is the first known research investigating this kind of pet separation anxiety in humans.

Carr and co-author Patricia Pendry, a WSU associate professor of human development, surveyed a sample of about 150 incoming first-year students who had pets at home. The vast majority of respondents, 81%, were women—which is a limitation of the study but also consistent with trends in college enrollment. In 2020, 60% of enrolled college students were women, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

A woman with dark hair smiling and holding a black cat on her shoulder
Alexa Carr

The researchers surveyed the group before they arrived on campus and after their first two weeks of the semester in fall 2019 before the pandemic forced many universities online. The students answered questions related to their mental health, attachment to their pets and feelings about leaving them behind.

Even after controlling for pre-existing mental health issues, the researchers found that pet-related separation anxiety was very strong in the group during the transition to college, especially among students who were closely attached to their pets.

The findings indicate this is an issue for many students and should be taken seriously by campus counselors, Carr said. It also has implications for pet visitation programs now popular at many U.S.  universities which bring animals to campus to help stressed students. A previous WSU study found that petting dogs or cats for just 10 minutes lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The authors said more research is needed to understand the implications of pet separation anxiety. For example, whether students’ symptoms are stable or become less severe over the course of the semester; or whether pet visitation programs might have some unintended effects, such as potentially exacerbating separation anxiety for students missing their specific pets back home.

The researchers also cautioned that this study should not be used as justification for students to bring their pets with them when they go to college, particularly if they would be their sole caregivers.

“It’s a big responsibility to take care of an animal and would a student then able to balance their school responsibilities, social lives and jobs?” Carr said. “There are more things to take into consideration and explore before we could advocate for more pets on campus.”

Source: WSU Insider

Long-term stress in dogs linked to the owner-dog relationship

The relationship a dog has with its owner is related to its stress level. This is the conclusion of a study from Linköping University. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also suggest that the link between stress and the owner’s personality traits differs between dog breeds.

Researchers at Linköping University study how the interaction between dog and human is connected to the wellbeing of the animal. Photo credit: Nataba

Researchers at Linköping University have investigated whether the stress levels of dogs are affected by the people they live with. Stress levels for the past several months can be determined in both dogs and humans by measuring the levels of stress hormone stored in hairs as they grow.

The researchers have collected hair from both dogs and owners, and measured levels of cortisol, the most important stress hormone, in them. They were interested in whether there are differences between different dog breeds. Breeding has led to the genetic selection of different breeds for different tasks. The study included 18 dogs from breeds that have been bred for independent hunting, such as the Swedish elkhound, the Norwegian elkhound, and the dachshund. A second group included dogs from ancient breeds that are genetically more closely related to the wolf than other breeds. This group comprised 24 dogs from breeds such as the shiba inu, the basenji, and the Siberian husky. All owners completed questionnaires about their own personality and that of their dog. They also answered questions about their relationship with their dog, including such matters as how the owner experienced the interaction with the dog, degree of emotional attachment to the dog, and the extent to which owning a dog gave rise to problems.

“The results showed that the owner’s personality affected the stress level in hunting dogs, but interestingly enough not in the ancient dogs. In addition, the relationship between the dog and the owner affected the stress level of the dogs. This was the case for both types, but the result was less marked for the ancient dogs”, says Lina Roth, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM).

In a previous study, the same researchers had seen that dogs from herding breeds, which have been genetically selected for their ability to collaborate with humans, mirror the long-term stress level of their owner. When the researchers now added information about the relationship of the herding dogs to their owner, it became clear that the relationship was significant for the long-term stress levels also in these dogs.

The researchers conclude that long-term stress is influenced least strongly by the owner and their relationship to the dog for ancient breeds. The hunting dogs show clear links between both the personality of the owner and their relationship to the dog, but it is only herding dogs that demonstrate the unique synchronisation with the long-term stress in the owner.

“We believe that the synchronisation of stress is a consequence of breeding the herding dogs for collaboration with people, while the relationship to the owner and the owner’s personality are important parameters that influence the synchronisation of stress levels”, says Lina Roth.

Parts of the study have received financial support from the Sveland Foundation.

Translation by George Farrants.

The article: Long term stress in dogs is related to the human-dog relationship and personality traits”, Amanda Höglin, Enya Van Poucke, Rebecca Katajamaa, Per Jensen, Elvar Theodorsson and Lina S. V. Roth, (2021), Scientific Reports, published online 21 April 2021, doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-88201-y

Source: Linköping University

Women influenced co-evolution of dogs and humans

Man’s best friend might actually belong to a woman.

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis

In a cross-cultural analysis, Washington State University researchers found several factors may have played a role in building the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and dogs, including temperature, hunting and surprisingly—gender.

“We found that dogs’ relationships with women might have had a greater impact on the dog-human bond than relationships with men,” said Jaime Chambers, a WSU anthropology Ph.D. student and first author on the paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology. “Humans were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person if the dogs had a special relationship with women. They were more likely to be included in family life, treated as subjects of affection and generally, people had greater regard for them.”

While dogs are the oldest, most widespread domesticated animal, very few anthropologic studies have directly focused on the human relationship with canines. Yet when the WSU researchers searched the extensive collection of ethnographic documents in the Human Relations Area Files database, they found thousands of mentions of dogs.

Ultimately, they located data from more than 844 ethnographers writing on 144 traditional, subsistence-level societies from all over the globe. Looking at these cultures can provide insight into how the dog-human relationship developed, Chambers said.

“Our modern society is like a blip in the timeline of human history,” she said. “The truth is that human-dog relationships have not looked like they do in Western industrialized societies for most of human history, and looking at traditional societies can offer a wider vision.”

The researchers noted specific instances that showed dogs’ utility, or usefulness, to humans, and humans’ utility to dogs as well as the “personhood” of dogs—when canines were treated like people, such as being given names, allowed to sleep in the same beds or mourned when they died.

A pattern emerged that showed when women were more involved with dogs, the humans’ utility to dogs went up, as did the dogs’ personhood.

Another prevalent trend involved the environment: the warmer the overall climate, the less useful dogs tended to be to humans.

“Relative to humans, dogs are really not particularly energy efficient,” said Robert Quinlan, WSU anthropology professor and corresponding author on the paper. “Their body temperature is higher than humans, and just a bit of exercise can make them overheat on a hot day. We saw this trend that they had less utility to humans in warmer environments.”

Quinlan noted there were some exceptions to this with a few dog-loving cultures in the tropics, but it was a fairly consistent trend.

Hunting also seemed to strengthen the dog-human connection. In cultures that hunted with dogs, they were more valued by their human partners: they were higher in the measures of dogs’ utility to humans and in personhood. Those values declined, however, when food production increased whether it was growing crops or keeping livestock. This finding seemed to go against the commonly held perception of herding dogs working in concert with humans, but Quinlan noted that in many cultures, herding dogs often work alone whereas hunting requires a more intense cooperation.

This study adds evidence to the evolutionary theory that dogs and humans chose each other, rather than the older theory that humans intentionally sought out wolf pups to raise on their own. Either way, there have been clear benefits for the dogs, Chambers said.

“Dogs are everywhere humans are,” she said. “If we think that dogs are successful as a species if there are lots of them, then they have been able to thrive. They have hitched themselves to us and followed us all over the world. It’s been a very successful relationship.”

Source: Washington State University

Understanding one another

Like us, dogs have their own forms of verbal and non-verbal communication.  Getting to know your dog and being a careful observer of their behavior helps you to develop a deep understanding of your dog.

We know that our dogs are great observers of our behavior, too.  That’s how they learn our cues, moods, and habits.

Having a good understanding of one another pays benefits when you have a dog who is getting older, or has disabilities.

Take Izzy.  She is an ex-racing greyhound and we’ve known for some time that she has arthritis in her carpus (wrist) and toes.  I picked up on the arthritis quite early.  I had noticed that almost every time I looked at her over the course of about a week,  she was licking her left foot.  A visit to the vet for an x-ray confirmed early signs of arthritic changes.  In response, she started getting rub-downs with an anti-inflammatory gel, I started her on additional deer velvet supplements (in addition to her glucosamine and chondroitin supplement) and I also increased the frequency of her visits to a local hydrotherapy pool and her massages.

Over the last year, we’ve also been battling corns  – something that plagues sighthounds in particular but has been aggravating her arthritis and was the main cause of her progressively becoming more lame.  I knew we were having a corn problem because she would limp only when crossing the road over chip-sealed road (intolerance of rough surfaces is typically the first sign).

As she then developed two corns on the same toe, her lameness became constant and our walks shorter, with a pram when she needed it.

Izzy had a flexor tenotomy surgery last month and this has helped greatly in managing the corns but of course the arthritis is still there, she is that much older, and she’s had months of reduced/shortened walks because of her lameness.

Now the bright side.  She is getting fitter and stronger and I’m carefully increasing the amount of activity she has.  Today, she didn’t want to go out initially for an afternoon walk and so I put her in her pram.

We got as far as around the block before she let me know she was ready to get out and walk.  (This is signaled by a high-pitched bark)

I know Izzy is getting tired when her head drops and she starts taking more and more time sniffing bushes, grass and trees.  These are signs that she is tiring and the excess sniffing is both a diversionary behavior and, at times, a sign she is stressed and uncomfortable.

That’s when I put her back in her pram.  She gets plenty of stimulation and enrichment by watching the world go by.  She also loves the attention she gets from passersby – both on foot and in cars.  (Shortly after I stopped this video, the couple who approached on foot spent at least 5 minutes talking to her, giving her treats and chatting about her care).

I am always grateful when people stop to talk to us about ‘what’s wrong with her’ and to ask about greyhounds and their welfare.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand