Did you know that September 14th is National Hug Your Hound Day?
It is! And while I am all for a day dedicated to the greatness of dogs, the truth is these companion animals are so good to us, and good for us, I think that they really deserve to be celebrated every day.
Archaeological and genetic evidence indicate that our canine companions evolved from wolves. Over tens of thousands of years, the individuals best suited to living amongst us – those who had a taste for our food scraps, who were not too afraid approach us, and who were best able to trigger our affection – selectively passed on their genes, thereby strengthening those traits. Later, once dog-human companionship was established, humans took active control over their breeding to develop traits that made dogs even more sociable. Other dogs were bred to help us herd animals, or to hunt. Humans and dogs became interdependent.
Dogs – and the wolves they descended from – are profoundly social animals. To survive and thrive they must adapt to the customs of their group, figure out their place in the hierarchy, and be forgiving. While we influenced their development in major ways, we could not have done this with just any animal species. Dogs are trainable, and suited to being our companions, because they have an appreciation for the social order that is built into them from the start.
For all of these reasons dogs, possibly more than any other animal species, are able to influence us in ways that are good for our physical and mental health. Simply having a dog has been linked to greater health and longevity. Though the precise reasons for this are not known, some likely explanations are that the act of dog walking is healthy exercise, and that having a canine companion protects us from loneliness – and loneliness is deadly. Just being with a dog can reduce stress, and petting a dog has been shown to reduce blood pressure and to stimulate the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and love.
Of course, dogs benefit from our companionship, too. In addition to getting their basic needs for food and shelter, they want and need our companionship – anyone who has come home from work to a bouncing, tail-wagging pooch can testify to that. And much like humans, dogs like and benefit from touch, though each individual dog has its own preferences; some may only want to be petted very little, others a lot. Petting should be adapted to suit the individual dog.
If a dog likes to be petted, does it logically follow that she might really enjoy a massage? Well, why not? Though you may never find a dog that is as into massage as this Corgi, if your dog likes to be petted there is no reason not to give her a basic canine massage. With practice, you should be able to customize the massage to best suit your dog. Meanwhile, you’ll be strengthening your bond all while getting your own health benefits.
Wait – what did you say? After all that you don’t even HAVE a dog?! Consider adopting one. The Humane Society of the United States has local chapters in all parts of the country that can help connect you with wonderful dogs (and other companion animals) that need a forever home.