Approximately 78 million dogs are owned as pets in the United States – in about 54% of all American homes – according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), so I think this post is something many of us can relate to. Why do we keep dogs around, though? They can cost up to and above $1000 on the initial purchase if they aren’t rescues, they often get sick as puppies and require expensive treatment, and the continual upkeep of food, grooming, and miscellaneous supplies can create an average annual expense of around $1500, give or take a few hundred. So, what makes having a dog as a pet worth all of that extra spending? The simple answer, true nearly 100% of the time, is that we love them, so the money we spend on them doesn’t matter. They’re worth it. I, personally, share this belief and would give you the same answer if you asked me why my family chose to spend thousands of dollars to treat my dog’s cancer instead of putting him down. But, rather than leave it at that, I’d also like to give a more in-depth explanation as to why human society would be a much more depressing place without dogs by our side. (APPA 2015)
Canines Throughout History
Dogs have been companions to humans before any other animal; they became the first animal humans fed purposefully, even before livestock, in 13,000 BC Central Asia. The ancient breeds would scavenge around human campsites, looking for scraps. At first, they were shooed away, before humans realized that these animals helped reduce the more unwanted population of rats. Over time, people realized that dogs were actually multi-talented animals, with the ability to bark in warning when predators or unfriendly humans were near, track down small game for hunting, and eventually even help transport people by sled. The relationship between human and canine continued to grow as society civilized, and the capabilities of dogs are still being discovered to this day. (Carr 2016)
The perseverance, dedication, and loyalty of dogs can be seen through several examples in history. Since the origin of their domestication, dogs have played surprisingly significant roles in the development of human culture. Alexander the Great’s dog, Peritas, saved him from being stampeded by an elephant so he could go on to begin the journey toward Western civilization. A nameless Newfoundland saved Napoleon Bonaparte from drowning, so the man could live to then face his downfall at Waterloo later that year. Oddly enough, even Robert the Bruce’s dog, Donnchadh, who saved his master’s life in 1306, was instrumental in the road to the American revolution, as Robert the Bruce’s direct descendant’s actions would create the dissonance between the American colonists and England that leads to inciting the revolution. Without these dogs, two of whom protected their master’s and one of whom saved a stranger, history as we know it today would be completely different. (Bougerol 2007)
Continued Relevance Today
As long as the past relationship between humans and dogs has been, the future is just as promising and extensive, if not more-so. As science paves the way for new advances in every aspect of our world, it isn’t surprising to find that dogs will play a rather involved role in several areas, such as the “test tube” puppies that could help rekindle life for endangered species, dogs outfitted for military espionage, and drug trials on dogs that could extend their lifespans and, potentially, human lifespans as well. Although there are many studies I could talk about, I’d like to focus on one in general that I feel is extremely beneficial to our society: therapy dogs in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.
The first dog connected to therapy was Jofi, Sigmund Freud’s Chow who he would take to his therapy sessions with his research subjects, as he believed Jofi helped create a calmer environment for the subjects. However, the person to whom the practice of using therapy dogs is attributed to is Elaine Smith. She created a program in 1976, in which she trained dogs to socialize with patients of hospitals and other institutions. Smith’s program, Therapy Dogs International (TDI), performed a study from 1996 to 1998 on the effect of therapy dogs on staff, residents, and patients in facilities which had the TDI program. They received 200 responses from their international survey, which involved various questions about the program’s effectiveness, the moods of the participants before and after, and the opinions of the staff. One such question inquired as to the benefits of the program. Ninety-two percent of responses recorded positive changes in mood as one of the benefits, followed closely by 86.5% reporting an increase in socialization and 86% reporting
an increase in verbalization. Even when staff were questioned about the effect of the therapy dog program on them, the responses were all positive, with the greatest response being that the dogs helped raise the staff’s morale during the visit. When asked if they would recommend the program to other facilities, the response was overwhelmingly affirmative, with most of the reasons for the recommendation being the increase in patient socialization and the elevated faculty mood. (TDI 1998)
In the future, I hope more grade schools consider utilizing a therapy dogs program for their students, as young children are more volatile to negative emotions and issues with socialization. As a college student, I know that having the chance to play with a dog before having to take an exam would help my stress immensely. Even being around untrained dogs can feel therapeutic, and is one of the many reasons people love their pets and consider them family. For people that are interested in helping dogs that don’t have homes, consider visiting the ASPCA website to donate or find more information, or check out Penn State’s very own therapy dog training group, Roar for More.