Did You Know: 4 Ways Dogs Improve Our Health?

Stress relief. The verdict is in: dogs are better than vacations. The affection and loving acceptance we get from dogs are among the most effective soothers of human stress.

Lower blood pressure. Whether through the increased exercise of daily walks or the above mentioned stress relief, dogs have been shown to reduce high blood pressure.

Lower cholesterol. Dog guardians typically have lower cholesterol levels than people with no dogs, possibly because dog people might adopt a healthier lifestyle overall.

Pain reduction. People recovering from surgeries or living with chronic pain report experiencing less pain and fatigue after spending as little as 15 minutes petting a dog.

Size Matters

Your Chihuahua may love Boxers and your Rottie mix may adore Dachshunds. But when little and big play together, keep close watch. Big dogs can unintentionally harm small dogs—and on the rare occasions when friendly play escalates into a scuffle, the smaller dog is at risk for serious injury or death. If you let your dog play with very differently sized dogs, supervise vigilantly.

How Puppy Training Has Changed—And Why

Formal dog training as we know it originated during World War II. Before that, dogs had been working household members and their behavior was largely shaped through organic learning from older dogs. Only when soldiers needed to train large numbers of dogs to assist in warfare did compulsion training arise and, when the war ended, was developed into a recognized field by discharged military personnel. Back then, society as a whole accepted punishment as a valid teaching method. Typical training approaches involved physical corrections, leash jerks, and loudly yelling at the dog. This was difficult for puppies to endure, so the prevailing wisdom was to hold off on proper training until the puppy was seven months old (house-training was the exception).

In some places, these outdated methods are still used. But from the 60s and 70s and on—through the work of pioneers like Bob Bailey, Karen Pryor, and Dr. Ian Dunbar—positive reinforcement training has gained ground. Informed by behavioral science, this approach promotes force-free motivational techniques to teach dogs what we do and don’t want. The motivators can be anything the dog wants: Treats, praise, toys, a leash walk, or a ball thrown. Behaviors we don’t like result in no reward, the removal of a reward, or no attention, but never in punishment or coercion. Reward-based training principles soon won through in puppy training too, notably with Dr. Ian Dunbar’s puppy kindergarten classes.

We now know puppies learn every day of their lives, whether we teach them deliberately or by accident. We also know that positive methods encourage fast learning. Studies in both people and animals show that knowledge acquisition centers in the brain slow down or shut off completely when pain or fear is present. Positive training also strengthens the bond between you and your puppy. To a puppy trained with rewards, training is a game and you’re the quizmaster. The last frontier is expectations. Like human children who need years to learn to play the violin, puppies don’t retain all they need to know in life from a six-week puppy class. The lesson? Start early—and keep going!

Beyond Fetch: Games To Play With Your Dog

A game is a great way to exercise your dog’s body and mind, and spend a little quality time together. What’s in your repertoire? Here’s a selection of games you can play indoors or outside:

Homegrown agility. If your house is big enough, create a makeshift obstacle course for your dog from rolled-up towels, cardboard boxes, blankets hung between chairs, etc. Or, if the weather is good and you have a yard, build your course outside. 

Hide-and-seek. Grab a handful of yummy treats or your dog’s favorite toy. Ask your dog to sit and stay, then you go hide in another room. Call your dog and when he finds you, reward him with a treat or a play session with his toy. Repeat until you have had enough—your dog likely won’t get bored anytime soon. 

The name game. Get two of your dog’s favorite toys and remove all other toys and possible distractions. Say the name of one of the toys (keep names simple, like “moose” or “bird”) and throw it for your dog to fetch. Repeat a few times, then do the same with the second toy. After a while, test to see if your dog has made the name connection. Put the two toys down and ask him to fetch one of them. If he gets it right, praise and treat him. If not, go back to the name-the-toy-and-fetch-it game a bit longer. 

Round Robin. Have the whole family (or a group of friends) grab treats and sit in a circle around 10 feet from each other. Each person then calls your dog, one after the other, and rewards him when he comes. If he catches on fast, try speeding up the game, having people call his name the moment the previous person has delivered a treat. When he has mastered this level, try spreading out further or taking the game outdoors.

Getting Real with Your Dog

One of the most frequent sources of frustration in dog training? Unrealistic expectations. Dogs’ intelligence shines through in so many ways that we tend to ascribe them decidedly human cognitive skills, such as the ability to understand complex sentences. It’s what some dog trainers refer to as “the Lassie syndrome.” If you often find yourself frustrated with your dog, here’s a primer on what it takes to create a Lassie:.

Dogs & Sweaters

Is the doggie sweater (jacket, snowsuit, raincoat, etc.) really necessary? The answer boils down to what your dog is naturally equipped with, coat-wise. Double-coated dogs with high coat density like Akitas, Malamutes, and Siberian Huskies were bred for harsh conditions and are uncomfortable with outerwear of any kind. Double-coated dogs with lower coat density like Collies and Shepherds are fine in most bad weather. They need clothes and boots only if exposed to extreme cold.

However, single-coated dogs like Yorkshire Terriers and Papillons must be dressed well for any rough weather. Ditto dogs with a hair coat, such as Poodles and Maltese. And regardless of breed, older dogs and dogs with weak immune systems may benefit from the extra warmth clothes provide. If in doubt, check with your veterinarian or simply watch your dog. If she shivers, she’s too cold.

When Dogs Eat Greenery

It’s a rare dog that never partakes of a tender stalk of juicy grass—and some dogs practically graze. Dogs are omnivores and it’s likely their diet in the wild would include fruit, berries, seeds, herbs, and a variety of grasses (despite lacking the enzyme to digest grass). On occasion, grass-eating is an attempt to induce vomiting or otherwise soothe a digestive issue, and it’s speculated that dogs also instinctively seek out certain herbs as a cure for other ailments. Because of the connection with gastric upset, it’s always worth paying extra attention if your dog suddenly develops a ravenous appetite for grass. Look for vomiting that lasts more than a few days, blood or mucus in the stool, and lethargy. Any of those should trigger a visit to the vet for a full checkup.

Absent any other symptoms, don’t worry if your dog snacks on the foliage—and perhaps a bit of soil in the bargain. If nothing else, it’s good roughage.

To Be Or Not To Be...A Dog's Dog

We all want our dogs to play nice with other dogs—and shouldn’t it come naturally? Dogs are social, after all. So why does an otherwise sweet-natured canine buddy turn into a killjoy at the park? Well, dogs can be introverts, too. Like humans, they can have bad days and they occasionally form instant dislikes to new dogs. But where we get to choose our friends and are free to avoid anyone we can’t stand, dogs pretty much have to go wherever we take them. What’s more, they are territorial creatures, protective of their favorite things, their home turf, and us. Adding another dog to the equation, familiar or not, always holds the potential for fireworks.

Let Sleeping Humans Lie...

Some dogs don’t appreciate a good lie-in—or know the difference between workdays and weekends. Young puppies and senior dogs can’t be expected it to hold it all night and are legitimately excused, but adult dogs should know better. If your dog has taken it upon himself to be your personal alarm clock, here are some tips.

Half Dog, Half Kangaroo

Some dogs are born jumpers. If you have a champion jumping bean on your hands, the first thing to remember when muddy paws land on your favorite pair of slacks is that your canine companion isn’t jumping on you out of rudeness or in an attempt to dominate you. Rather, it’s a case of misplaced enthusiasm. She is overjoyed to see you and this is how she shows it. That said, a jumping dog is tough on the wardrobe and can be downright dangerous when the dog is big enough to knock you down, so here’s a look at why dogs jump and what can be done about it.

Half Dog, Half Kangaroo

Why dogs jump. Jumping up on us is canine for “hello, gorgeous!” It’s a greeting and a way to get close to our faces, the source of good stuff like eye contact, kisses, and enthusiastic noises. As it happens, dogs greet dogs with much less jumping—scientists speculate that jumping evolved in dogs specifically as a greeting of humans. Too bad they didn’t develop an automatic sit, right?

The remedy. The good news is that dogs can learn polite, human-style greetings. The trick to a harmonious life with a dog who thinks she’s a kangaroo is to teach her a new way to greet you. First, let your dog know that jumping doesn’t work as an approach to get attention. Don’t push her away, yell, or bring your knee up—those responses are more than enough attention to keep your dog jumping. Instead, ignore her. Turn your back and walk away. Only give her your attention when she has all four paws on the floor. If you do this consistently, your dog’s greetings will change (and your dry cleaning bill will shrink accordingly).

Does your dog jump on houseguests and strangers? Contact us to get help!

The Special Bond

You’re not imagining it. Your dog really does understand what you’re feeling. Dogs can’t read our minds, no, but when it often seems like they do, it’s because of a special connection between our two species that’s increasingly well understood. Dogs don’t just seem attuned to our emotions. They are. Eye-track studies of dogs have shown that they read human faces for emotional cues in the same way we ourselves do. No other species do this, not even chimps. Scientists speculate that this skill has evolved in dogs to enable them to communicate with us on an emotional level. To better understand us. Which makes sense. When you rely on humans for your survival, there’s obvious biological advantage to reading their moods for signs of intentions, impending danger, etc.

The same goes for barking. Wolves rarely bark, and when they do, it’s to warn other pack members. Dogs, on the other hand, possess an impressive vocal repertoire that spans yowls, yelps, grumbles, whines, acoustic sighs, and many types of barks, suggesting another trait dogs may have developed exclusively to strengthen their teamwork with humans. This goes beyond utilitarian purposes like herding and protecting our livestock. Arguably, dogs have learned to speak a second language specifically to support their bond with us.

And the connection goes both ways: We’ve become skilled interpreters of barks. In experiments in which researchers played recordings of dog barks to dog guardians, they were capable of distinguishing between request barking, anxious barking, territorial barking, and other kinds, without seeing the dog’s body language or the situation. We use the tonality, frequency, and interval of barks to decode the message.

So, the science backs us up: We do indeed have a special bond with dogs. It’s so strong that we mostly take it for granted and lump dogs in with the rest of the family—because they are family. But dogs are not human. They are remarkable, adaptive creatures that have evolved in partnership with us in a way no other species have. And that’s pretty special.