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Dog talk with Uncle Matty: Canine companionship — the pros and the other pros

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From page A6 | April 25, 2014 |

I spend a lot of time talking about the problem behaviors — and their fixes — that sometimes surface in the shared lives of dogs and humans. I’m a dog trainer; it’s what I do.

But while problems come and go — especially when they’re properly addressed — the good stuff that comes from shacking up with a dog can last as long as the relationship itself.

Young to old, single to full house, without respect to race, gender or religion, dogs across the board simply make life better. But don’t take my word for it. Just follow the science.

A study published in the August 2012 edition of Pediatrics found that infants who live “with dogs at home had fewer respiratory symptoms or infections and less frequent ear infections. The babies also needed fewer courses of antibiotics than other babies.” Turns out that dirty dog may be just what the doctor ordered.

Dr. Mary Tobin, director of the allergy division of Rush University Medical Center, said, “It’s kind of exposing the immune system at an early age to all kinds of proteins the dogs would be exposed to in the environment, which somehow leads to a tolerance of the environment versus being more allergic to it.” Even as the commercial anti-bacterial crusade grows stronger, the truth is that there is such a thing as too much sanitization — and dogs may be the natural antidote.

But it isn’t just babies who benefit.

In 1980, Dr. Erika Friedmann conducted a study of coronary patients that determined that “pet owners were more likely to be alive one year after discharge from a coronary care unit than non-owners.” And there are countless medical studies that link the companionship of animals — particularly dogs — to the improved health and longevity of humans: lower blood pressure and cholesterol, decreased levels of depression and anxiety, better physical fitness and more laughter. Yes, laughter.

An experiment by Robin Maria Valeri on laughter in relation to humans and the animals in their lives concluded that people who live with dogs laugh more than both people who live with cats and people who live with neither. In encouraging further exploration of the connection between dogs and laughter, Valeri writes, “Dogs are also reported to laugh and to use laughter to elicit play behavior in other dogs. Do humans recognize the laughter of their dogs? And, if yes, do they respond to their dog’s laughter with their own laughter?”

If she’s asking me, the answer is a solid you bet. And I think Jane Brody would agree.

Recently, blogging for The New York Times, Brody detailed the loneliness that weighed on her four years into widowhood and her subsequent decision to “acquire a four-legged companion, rather than a two-legged one.”

“I am now making it work with Max II, little mischief that he is, and I am besotted,” she writes. “But perhaps the most interesting (and unpremeditated) benefit has been the scores of people I’ve met on the street, both with and without dogs, who stop to admire him and talk to me. Max has definitely increased my interpersonal contacts and enhanced my social life.”

To varying degrees, dogs require time and energy and money and aren’t for everyone. For those who have the inclination and the resources, though, the benefits are invaluable. While the companionship of a dog is not a panacea, the companionship of the right dog might be the next best thing.

Woof!

Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at www.creators.com, and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to dearuncle.gazette@unclematty.com or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

Copyright 2014 Creators Syndicate Inc. 

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