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The Power of Dogs: How Your Dog Can Change Your Life

By: By: Renae Hamrick, RVT

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Personal trainer, psychologist, doctor.... Did you know your dog is a multi-faceted professional? He doesn't need years of schooling to be able to help you get into shape, be happier about your life, and have better physical health. It is a talent that comes naturally to animals. Are you harnessing the healing powers of your pooch?

Dog as Personal Trainer

The best of the animal personal trainers are dogs. Your dog is eager to celebrate life, and there is no one he would rather do it with than you. Next time Fido bugs you for a walk around the block or a jog through the woods, give in to his pleas. It will be great exercise for both of you. Fetch, tug-of-war, and Frisbee are other fun, healthy games to play with your dog and help improve fitness.

Establishing a regular activity regimen with your dog will lay the foundation for future motivation and encouragement from your canine trainer. If your dog expects exercise, his wagging tail and excitement will be the incentive you need to be active on days when you otherwise don't feel motivated.

Even when you're not out being active with your pet, there's a good chance your furry friend is helping you lose weight. Most pets are comedians who make us laugh with their daily antics. Laughing for 15 minutes a day can burn 40 calories, so spend some quality time with your dog or cat....surely he will find a way to make you giggle.

Dog as Psychologist

"Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms." A novelist from the 1800s, George Eliot, wrote these words in appreciation of the relationship we can develop with pets. Dogs don't mind what our pasts hold, how we dress, or if we didn't get that promotion. A true friend through good times and bad, a dog is always offering unconditional love.

This unwavering dedication from dogs provides tremendous emotional support to the people who share in their lives. A wagging tail and a slobbery kiss, or a head-butt and a purr are the perfect smile inducers when you're feeling down. A pet encourages optimism, decreases stress levels, and improves overall mental health.

There have been multitudes of studies on the influences of pets on people. It has been proven that the presence of an animal can lower a person's blood pressure and heart rate to a point that is similar to a body's condition after meditation. Next time you leave work frustrated with your boss, skip that visit to the bar, and come home to your furry friends. Give them the opportunity to change your mood and ease your mind.

Not only do dogs improve the mental health of their families, dogs also serve as psychologists publically. Therapy dogs lifted the spirits of both survivors and rescuers at September 11th's Ground Zero. When grief and horror filled the minds of all the people who witnessed the attacks, wagging tails were there to lend comfort and support. Even on such a terrible day, dogs were able to bring smiles.

Dog as Doctor

Through encouraging exercise and decreasing stress levels, dogs also improve the physical health of humans. It has been proven that having a dog can decrease your odds of suffering a heart attack, decrease your recovery time after a heart attack, improve cholesterol levels, improve vital signs, decrease frequency of minor illnesses, and help prevent depression.

Not only do companion animals improve health in the everyday lives of pet owners, there are also pets trained specifically to lend a helping paw and encourage healing in hospitals and nursing homes. Some therapy pets make regular visits with a handler to these facilities, and some are resident pets, especially in nursing homes.

Therapy dogs are loving, furry friends who have passed a temperament and behavior test and have met set criteria to be allowed into medical care settings. During visits, patients pet, brush, talk to, and play with the therapy dogs. These interactions help the patient relax, easing worries and dropping blood pressure and heart rate, which is conducive to well-being and physical healing.

Some therapy dogs are even used as encouragement in physical and occupational therapy. Patients may walk the dog, play fetch with him, groom him, or speak commands toward the dog as exercises in their rehabilitation. The presence and enthusiasm of the therapy dog help the patients relieve their minds of their frustrations and their bodies of their pains.

Read PetPlace's story of a therapy dog named Buddy to learn more about these dog's duties.
Do not underestimate the power of your dog. Spend time with him, give him the love and attention he deserves, and he will give you more than you could ever imagine!

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