Today, on Friday 26 August, pawrents around the world are celebrating International Dog Day and THE PACK are no exception! International Dog Day was set up in 2004 by animal lover Colleen Paige, who adopted her first dog, Sheltie, from her local rescue on 26 August. Colleen wanted to raise awareness about adopting rescue dogs, so she established International Dog Day as an opportunity to help all pups live a safe, happy and abuse-free life. We’ll raise a paw to that!
We’ve barked your ears off about how we can give our dogs the happiest, healthiest lives possible. So today seems like a good day to reflect on all the incredible things that our dogs do for us…
They give us healthier minds and bodies
Over the last few decades, there’s been a ton of research suggesting that spending time with animals has huge health benefits for humans, both physically and emotionally. Scientific studies show that being pawrent to a dog can lower our blood pressure and chill us out by lowering the stress hormone, cortisol. One study reported by Johns Hopkins Medicine discovered that 84% of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients paired with a service dog reported a significant reduction in symptoms.
Dogs can also encourage us to do more exercise, meaning we’re less likely to suffer from heart disease, obesity or diabetes. Growing up with dogs can help prevent allergies, introducing a wider variety of allergens and microbes into the house, strengthening our immune systems. One study of more than 1000 children showed that allergy decreased from 49% in those with no pets to zero in those with five or more pets during their first year of life. Finally, dogs can even use their magnificent sense of smell to detect epileptic seizures up to 45 minutes before they happen, potentially saving lives!
On the psychological side, dogs offer companionship to those who are lonely. There’s even science that shows the social interaction between people and their dogs increases levels of the ‘feel-good’ hormone, oxytocin. Dogs also encourage us to be more social by getting us out and about, and our furry friends have an uncanny way of getting people talking... How many times has a stranger stopped and chatted to you about your pup? Or broken that unspoken rule of ‘no eye contact’ on public transport to smile at you and your hairy pal? Apps like BorrowMyDoggy and Rover make it easier than ever to connect with other pawrents to dog sit or dog walk, often leading to new human and canine friendships.
Sometimes dogs help us when we most need it, with dog-assisted therapy in hospitals and assisted living facilities making an enormous difference to the lives of people who are struggling. Residents who may not respond to staff or even to human relatives can be visibly moved by a visit from a dog. An interaction with a furry friend, for instance, can help people with dementia become less agitated, finding a moment of calm in the midst of the storm.
They can be a lifeline for vulnerable children
Did you grow up with a family dog, or are you raising a fur child alongside your human children? For many of us, building a bond with a dog was the first step in leading a lifestyle that shows compassion to all non-human animals, and there’s now a wealth of research that shows how important and beneficial a childhood relationship with a dog can be.
The bond between children and dogs is a topic close to our hearts at THE PACK, working as we do with charity Underdog International. Underdog try to share these vital bonding experiences with as many children across the world as possible. Underdog’s motto is ‘Children helping Dogs. Dogs helping Children’ and they run a 'dogs in schools' programme, global education projects and a dog adoption initiative, helping put all this research into action to create the confident, happy animal advocates of the future.
Some dogs are classified as ‘emotional support’ animals because of the psychological benefits we talked about earlier. While adults can have emotional support dogs, children with autism are often beneficiaries: research from the University of Lincoln found that children with autism experience fewer ‘meltdowns’ (when a child becomes overwhelmed and loses control of their behaviour) in the presence of a pet dog. Building a relationship with a furry friend can make a child more confident, help reduce anxiety and improve communication.
They can guide us – and find lost people!
It goes without saying that trained service dogs can make an immeasurable difference to people living with physical disabilities, such as paraplegia or blindness. Having a guide dog opens the door for somebody with visual or hearing impairment, or difficulty moving, to live more independently, supporting their physical and mental health.
Not only can dogs guide us in our daily lives, they can also guide us to missing people, Lassie style! Tracking or trailing dogs are trained to follow the unique smell of the lost person, using the scent on an item of their clothing. Dogs can also be trained to air scent, or area search, covering large areas quickly, off lead, sampling the air currents for the scent of any human at all. The clever canine then follows the smell to the source and reports back to his or her handler. Aren’t dogs amazing?
They can sniff out danger, from explosives to cancer
In short, yes, they are. Because tracking people isn’t the half of it. Explosive detection dogs (EDDs) are used by the military in war zones to detect bombs, but also in civilian settings. Dog breeds that are especially play-motivated (like Alsatians) or food-motivated (like Labrador Retrievers – or any dog catching sight of a can of THE PACK!) are often used for this kind of work, normally starting reward-based training as young as one year old. The dog and handler tend to stay together for about nine years of service, so the bond between them is very real. But how exactly do these dogs find bombs? Well, it’s those incredible noses again. They use their ‘vomeronasal’, a patch of sensory cells within the main chamber of the snout, to detect heavy moisture-borne odour particles, including the chemicals in explosives. Whereas humans identify smells as blends of chemicals, dogs can smell individual chemical odours! That means that scents used to mask a suspicious substance from humans can’t fool a dog…
This ability to sniff out chemical changes brings us to another astonishing canine ability: to detect cancer before it’s even been diagnosed. People have reported dogs constantly sniffing or nudging an area of their pawrent’s body, or the body of a furry playmate, only to later find a tumour. There’s a science to this: tumours produce organic compounds which – to a dog’s sensitive nose - have a distinct stench, released into urine, breath and sweat. These compounds are particularly smelly in the early stages of cancer when cells are dividing. Studies over the last 10 years or so have shown dogs could identify the pee of patients with bladder cancer almost three times more often than would be expected by chance alone, and accurately detect lung, ovarian and colorectal cancers simply by smelling exhaled breath samples.
They'll be our best friends through thick and thin
All this is mind-blowing, but perhaps the most astounding thing about dogs is their seemingly intrinsic tendency to stand by our side, no matter what. The loyalty of dogs is legendary: take the story of Hachikō the Japanese Akita, who waited at Tokyo's Shibuya train station every day between 1925 and 1935 in hopes that his dead guardian would return. Our dogs are our best friends and that has nothing to do with their ability to detect bombs or cancer. It has everything to do with the way they provide us with sympathy and comfort when we’re sad or share moments of joy when we’re happy. Oddly, this concept of canine empathy is still contentious, many people (we can only assume, non-pawrents!) sceptical of the idea that dogs can empathise with their human guardians. Yet scientific evidence exists for dog empathy. One study copied a technique used to measure empathy in human toddlers, testing 18 dogs in their pawrent’s homes to see how dogs responded when their pawrent cried versus when a stranger cried. Each dog not only approached and tried to comfort their pawrent when they cried, but also approached the crying stranger. This suggests they were looking to offer comfort, not simply receive it (in which case they would have gone to their pawrent when the stranger cried).
Not only can be take comfort from our dogs but we can learn an enormous amount from them, simply by caring for them responsibly. Many prisons have schemes like Paws for Progress that pair prisoners with dogs from local rescue centres, training the dogs and making them more adoptable, but also teaching the human participants to learn skills like patience, empathy, loyalty and persistence, as well as enhancing their wellbeing. Without doubt, being a pawrent is a huge privilege, and not one we should take lightly.
It’s clear that we have so much to celebrate when it comes to our fur children. So why not show your appreciation by donating to your local rescue shelter or to our charity partner Underdog? You could help them positively impact one million children and dogs by 2025.
Or if donating money isn’t an option, there are hundreds of ways that you can show your appreciation to your own dog today, whether that be hiding some extra treats for them to find, taking them on a new sniffari walk, or simply spending an extra 15 minutes playing! As we’ve seen, that time can benefit you too - in more ways than you might imagine.