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106.1 The River

Puppy Love

‘Tis the season for love. Yes, I’m talking about the canine variety. Thanks to the newest addition to the Alpert family, puppy love has become contagious. It is amazing how much joy a 1.9 lb. Tea Cup Chihuahua has brought to our lives. Her name is Dinky, but her name does not even come close to fitting her big personality. Since Dinky has joined our family, not only have we had a lot of cuddle time, walks, and laughs together as a family, but we all seem to be a little bit happier. I got to thinking, and there has to be something to this. So, I did a little digging.

Veterinarians and Sociologists have been talking about this subject for decades, and when I stumbled across the book entitled “100 Simple Secrets Why Dogs Make Us Happy” by David Niven, Ph.D., I knew that it wasn’t just a coincidence. The first secret makes the most sense to me. Dogs have personality. How many people have you encountered in your life that cannot even make eye contact, let alone offer a firm handshake or a friendly smile? My mother used to describe people like that as having the personality of a mayonnaise sandwich. I would look at her funny and reply with “I didn’t know sandwiches had personalities.” Then again, I suppose that was her whole point.

Every dog I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning never had a problem expressing any of these things (yes, dogs can smile), not to mention feel emotions and express affection, although often times in the form of slobber and kisses. I thought the most compelling simple secret in the book was that people who own dogs live longer. Research shows that dog owners walk their dogs, and walking not only burns calories but decreases stress. Dr. Niven says dog owners walk 79% farther in an average week than people who do not own a dog.

I consulted our local Veterinarian, Dr. Sam Meisler of My Pet’s Animal Hospital, on the topic during a visit the other day, and here’s what he had to say about dog ownership and happiness. “Dogs give us unconditional love – no questions asked. They also are very attuned to us and can read and interpret our expressions. They know when we are upset and when we are happy, and they respond. What more could you ask for?”

Now a new study reports that dogs, like infants, are able to study minor details in human communication and correctly interpret intent. The New York Times recently posted an article describing what researchers in Hungary have discovered about canine behavior. They presented dogs with two videos. In the first, a woman says “hi dog” while looking straight at the camera. The woman then turns her head toward a container and the dog follows her gaze. However, when the woman is looking down, the dog does not follow her subsequent gaze. Adam Miklosi, a behavioral biologist at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, says the study shows dogs can read human behavior and understand when they are being addressed.

I know what you are thinking. DUH… we already knew this. Just look at how my dog becomes putty in my hand when I talk baby talk to him or check out Mr. Jealous sulking in the corner because I’m giving the new puppy some love. (I was referring to our other dog, not my husband.) But it’s nice to know that science is confirming what most of us already know. Miklosi makes a good point in the article. “Being in a human family gives the dogs the ability to interact in a human way.” He goes on to say that you can really treat your dog as an infant, which you wouldn’t really do with a goat or another domesticated animal.

I believe a happy dog can make for a happier human, but happiness works both ways. Owning a pet of any kind takes responsibility, commitment, and a special place in your heart to love the animal. There are so many pets that need homes and want to love us back. If you are considering a dog or cat, a good place to start is the Humane Society of The Tennessee Valley. For more information, visit www.humanesocietytennessee.com.

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