2020 was the year that many of us were reminded of the sheer joy that having a dog in your life can bring; from lockdown companions to exercise alibis, our dogs certainly lived up to their reputation as “(wo)man’s best friend”!
As Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day of course) approaches, at Sniffe & Likkit we started wondering how our ‘fur-kids’ came to be such an important part of the family…. no matter how big or small that family might be. And is it only dogs that can achieve this special bond with us?
You may have many best friends but your dog only has one.
Research suggests dog ownership may improve heart health, decrease depression, and even help you live longer – it’s a symbiotic relationship that has been as beneficial for humans, as much as our canine companions. And it’s a bond that stretches back at least 15,000 years.
That's one possibility at least; some fossil evidence suggests domestication as far back as 30,000 years. If that’s true then as James Gorman notes, we loved our tail-wagging besties before inventing agriculture, language, or permanent homes and even before we domesticated cows, goats, or cats!
It’s the original ‘special relationship’
The human-dog relationship was born when ancient wolves discovered they can scavenge the leftovers from human kills for more reward, and far less risk, than hunting themselves. Over successive generations, their offspring became more dependent on human benefactors and we took them into our service.
But where are we now? We love Kevin Dickinson’s list of 6 reasons why dogs truly are our best friends… all the links are at the bottom of this blog – it’s fascinating science stuff!
Top reasons why they’re our best friends
- Dogs see us as family… and you thought it was the other way around! (So did we). Turns out that Dogs see their people as family, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Cognition scientists at Emory University demonstrated that a dogs' brains' reward centre lit up most when presented with human scents (even over food and other dogs). These results bolstered other research that shows dogs act similarly to human sounds and that they are the only non-primates to run toward humans for protection and comfort.
- Dogs may be able to curb the risk of some mental diseases. That's the conclusion of research that compared ownership of pets with rates of mental illness. Participants who owned dogs in the first years of life showed the largest protective effect. But cats did not show a similar link between ownership and a reduced risk of mental diseases.
- Dogs are your heart's best friend, too. We all know that walking is good for physical health and overall wellbeing. Regular walks with your dog is great exercise and boosts cardiovascular health. Yet more research (this is a popular topic!) compared the health of pet owners with those who did not own pets and found a correlation between dog ownership and heart health. The researchers associated this with increased engagement and physical activity.
- Dogs make life better (and longer). Reasons 2 and 3 add up to improved wellness… so no surprise then that dog ownership correlates with a 24 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality, likely explained by an increase in physical activity and a decrease in depression and loneliness. Over to Sweden, where (yup, more research) found that single dog owners had a lowered risk of death, either due to cardiovascular disease (11 percent) or other causes (33 percent).
- Dogs can teach us ways to learn. Comparing how kids and dogs retrieve treats from a puzzle, it turns out dogs are better at ignoring bad advice. Dogs nimbly skip unnecessary steps, thereby showing their ability to filter information effectively. The children settled on pure imitation, regardless of whether a step proved useful in solving the puzzle.
- Dogs teach us about ourselves. Dogs resemble their owners in more ways than floppy jowls or a perky gait. Dogs can mirror their owners' personalities – with extroverted owners rating their dogs as more active and playful.
But we think there's more!
That’s all well and good for the researchers, but any dog owner knows there’s more to it than that...
- Dogs are just great company. Feeling lonely and down? Who’s there, staring back at you with those puppy dog eyes, floppy tongue and wagging tail.
- Dogs love us unconditionally. You can tell you’ve got a special connection when you go away for a few days and your dog is over the moon to see you return. Once they love us, it’s forever without judgement or pressure (…okay maybe not if there’s treat jar involved). Humans have an extra special bond with their pooches because they are there, no matter what you’re going through.
- Dogs will do amazing things for us. From rescuing their owners, to putting themselves in danger to help out, the protection instinct is strong and coupled with intelligence and problem-solving… well, you’ve got one handy sidekick in a crisis. Humans have bred dogs to do lots of different jobs so the range of skills they have is quite extraordinary
- Dogs have an infectious zest for life. They take each day – each moment - as it comes.
Does this inspire us to live our best lives? We think so. They teach us to live in the moment and appreciate time with our family.
What would be your top reasons for making a dog your best friend?