They have long been labelled man’s best friend and there’s no doubt that a cuddle from your favourite canine can improve your mental and physical health.
Sales of dogs have risen hugely during lockdown but it isn’t just daily exercise that’s a benefit of being an owner. You actually lessen your risk of dying if you have a dog.
Well, according to a 2019 study at the University of Toronto, dog owners have a 24 per cent lower chance of dying from any cause over a 10-year period, and people who lived with a dog after having a heart attack had a significantly lower risk of dying.
This was backed up by research at Uppsala University in Sweden who looked at data of more than 3.4 million people and found single dog owners had a 33% reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease or other causes, and 11% reduction in risk of heart attack compared to single non-owners.
Meanwhile in a 2015 Japanese study researchers looked at how much of the feel-good hormone oxytocin we produce when we’re with a dog.
Turns out it is quite a lot.
Hold eye contact with your pet dog over a 30 minute period and you can increase your oxytocin levels by 300 %, while the dog’s levels go up by 130%. No wonder then that Oxytocin is known as the cuddle hormone and is important for stress relief, reassurance and bonding.
But the benefit of having a dog doesn’t stop there. Medical detection dogs can sniff out diseases ranging from Covid to cancer as well as warn their owners of impending attacks if they suffer from conditions like diabetes or severe allergies.
Claire Guest, chief scientific officer and co-founder of the Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) charity says: ‘The key to a greater understanding of the diagnosis of human disease could be held in the nose of man’s best friend.
‘Bio detection dogs have the potential to save countless lives and transform the future of disease detection with their incredible sense of smell, and medical alert assistance dogs are already saving the lives of people with complex health conditions by warning them of an impending medical crisis, so they can take the necessary action and stay safe.’.
This is highlighted in a book by dog lover Kate Leaver – Good Dog – sparked by the author’s shih tzu Bertie, who helped her through depression.
‘Bertie’s support, comfort, physical affection and calming presence gave me what I needed to get through a hit of melancholy that severe,’ she says. ‘I had a theory he could smell depression on me – I asked a few canine behavioural experts and they agree it’s possible.
‘The health benefits of living with a dog are quite astounding. There are the obvious ones, like how dog people tend to be fitter because they go for daily walks or runs, and we suspect dogs might make us happier or calmer. I find it really validating, as someone who goes on about the cleverness and loveliness of her dog, to have the science to back me up too.’
We thought you’d like to meet some of these clever canines.
A border collie, Pip was trained by his diabetic owner Katie Gregson to detect when her blood sugar is too high or low.
She watched a YouTube video on how to train a dog as a diabetic alert dog and learned to put samples of her saliva into pots and freeze them when she had high or low blood sugar. She took them out every day for six months to show them to Pip, rewarding her when she showed any interest in them.
She then began to hold the pots up to her mouth, so Pip would associate the smell with her.
Over an 18-month period, Pip learned to detect the smell, associate it with Katie, and alert someone when she smelled it. Katie has now got rid of the pots and relies on Pip to sniff out any change in blood sugar.
Storm is a big Labrador x golden retriever who’s training to be a Covid-19 detection dog. He’s learning the odour of the virus from tiny pieces of shirt, socks and face masks worn by people who tested positive.
Keen to please, Storm enjoys using his initiative but like the rest of us, when he’s at home he’s never happier than settling down in a sunny spot and relaxing.
Cheeky spaniel Jobi is a playful pooch but that’s just in his downtime. The rest of his day is spent on the serious business of cancer detection.
Jobi is specifically working on spotting prostate cancer in human samples.
When he finds the odour he’s looking for, he stops in front of it, staring, so his trainer is absolutely clear what he’s detected. He then gets a biscuit reward.