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Life With Dogs: The Importance Roles Dogs Play in Our Lives

life with dogs
Dogs play many roles in our lives; not only are they our loyal, faithful best friends, they often work to protect us, guide us and even rescue us in certain situations. Unlike people, dogs never hold a grudge against us. Perpetually happy, our dogs provide us with fun, entertainment, and companionship, without asking for anything in return other than a little attention, food, and water.

What other roles do dogs play in our lives? Certain breeds work to guide those who cannot see for themselves, while others are trained to detect certain scents and aid law enforcement in locating illegal materials, people who are lost, and even the body of a missing person. There are literally dozens of roles that dogs play in our lives, many that will be discussed in this article.

Dogs Provide Companionship And Friendship To The Elderly

Many older dogs provide companionship for those who are elderly and live alone. An elderly person often spends many hours of the day with no one to talk to or engage with. A dog provides love and affection, and most of all loyalty. For an elderly person, a dog can be a great joy, giving that person something to look forward to each day.

It has also been shown that older adults with dogs enjoy enhanced social, physical, and emotional states. Those who own dogs generally take twice the number of daily walks as those who do not have a dog. Elderly people who do not have a dog also tend to engage in conversations that are focused on the past rather than in the present. You could say that those elderly people who have dogs enjoy a more fulfilled, purposeful life than those who do not.

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Dogs With Jobs - Working Dogs

Many dogs are trained to work in a variety of fields. Some may be seeing-eye dogs to direct the blind, who cannot know when a cross light is green. Others may provide security for a homeowner, or even compete in dog shows. Dogs are easily trained because they are so intelligent. 

That being said, many dogs spend half of their lives in training. Never feel that a dog is being punished in some way through training, as dogs who are rewarded feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when pleasing their human friends or masters.

Some of the working dog breeds include Boxers, Great Danes, Mastiffs, Saint Bernard's, and Siberian Huskies, although there are dozens. Boxers are great guardian dogs that once served as police and military dogs in Germany. Today, they make good pets because of their friendly nature and exuberance.

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Great Danes were first proven to be able hunters in Germany, where the breed originated (although many assume the Great Dane is Danish because of their name.) This is one of the most popular dog breeds today, adapting easily to training and with an easygoing nature. Even though they are large in size, these dogs are known to be gentle and sensitive.

The Mastiff is huge in size, typically ranging from 175 to 190 pounds as a full-grown adult. Since ancient times, the Mastiff has functioned as a guardian dog. Despite their huge size, these dogs are calm and good-natured, devoted to families with or without children.

Hunting dogs, land mine dogs, rescue and sled dogs, assistance, herding, and drug dogs all belong to the working class. Today, most people use hunting dogs as an enjoyable sport. Herding dogs are typically used to herd cattle and other animals that are larger than the dogs, so they are usually not intimidated by larger animals. 

Drug dogs work with law enforcement to sniff out illegal drugs and narcotics; because of their 200,000 olfactory receptors, these dogs have a keen sense of smell. While sled dogs were once used as a form of transportation, they are mostly used for sports today.

Dogs and healing power: Can dogs really contribute to improved health?

It seems the answer to that question is yes. There have been various studies conducted around the world over the decades; in Japan, a study found that those who owned pets visited the doctor 30% less than those who were not pet owners. In Australia, a study including 6,000 people revealed that those who owned dogs had a lower risk of heart attack than those who were not dog owners. 

Cholesterol and blood pressure was lower, resulting in a healthier cardiovascular system. Experts believe that the stress lowering effects of owning a pet are what contribute to improved health.

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In more recent years it has been noted that dogs can also sense when someone is on the verge of having a seizure. A report in the British Medical Journal in 2000 examined cases in which people with diabetes who were dog owners were often alerted by their pet of a pending hypoglycemic episode.

Recently studies have shown that dogs can do more than help their owners reduce stress or alert of an oncoming seizure. Studies now suggest that through the breath, dogs can identify individuals who suffer from various types of cancer such as lung and breast cancer. 

While it is not known for certain at this point in time whether dogs can actually detect certain illnesses or diseases, what is known is that dogs are good for their owners in an emotional sense.

Roles that "Hero" Dogs Play in Our Lives

There are many breeds of dogs that have become thought of as hero dogs over the years. These dogs perform many duties from assisting law enforcement to finding people who may be lost or facing a life or death situation. Some of these dogs include:

1. Police Dogs 

Most major cities in the U.S. today use police dogs for a variety of reasons. Some help by tracking criminals through scent, while others search buildings, cars, and other areas for illegal substances. Due to the sensitivity of their noses, police dogs have a superior sense of smell that allows them to protect our citizens by sniffing out weapons, drugs, and even bombs. 

German shepherds are the most common breed of dogs used in police work, although Labrador retrievers and the Belgian Malinois are also used occasionally.

2. SAR (Search-and-rescue) Dogs 

Search and rescue dogs are trained to find those who may have lost their way while hiking the woods, climbing mountains, or participating in any number of activities that put them at risk of danger. A SAR dog works with a handler and alerts the handler to any signs that may help the handler know where the lost or injured person is. 

SAR dogs work by using scent; the handler will let the dog smell of an item that has the scent of the person they are searching for on it. When the dog detects anything unusual, he will let the handler know which way to go.

Not only do search-and-rescue dogs have a keen sense of smell, but they also have superior hearing and are capable of seeing things at night that a human cannot see. SAR dogs work to find people either alive or deceased, and many can even detect a deceased body that is immersed in water. Some of the breeds frequently used for SAR purposes include the German shepherd, bloodhounds, Labrador and golden retrievers, and border collies.

3. Guard Dogs

Many people consider watchdogs and guard dogs the same thing, but there is really a distinction between the two. Watchdogs are typically dogs that "guard" your home, alerting you when a visitor arrives or when something is amiss. Most breeds of dogs are naturally watchful at home without being trained, as they feel your home and property is their domain.

On the other hand, some dog breeds are trained specifically to be guard dogs due to their natural inclination to defend and guard the people or property they feel they are responsible for. While a watchdog may bark vigorously at anything that seems unusual or out of the ordinary, 

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a guard dog may be trained to attack or restrain an intruder. Guard dogs may guard a person or family, property, or even livestock. Those who guard livestock are typical of the size and strength necessary to fend off predators like wolves or coyotes.

While many guard dogs will actually attack when prior warnings are not heeded, most have a threatening growl and intimidating appearance that frighten a potential intruder enough to persuade them to leave without actually attacking.

Dog breeds that are particularly well-suited for their ability to be trained and used in a guard dog capacity include:

  • German Shepherd
  • Doberman (female)
  • Bullmastiff
  • American Bulldog
  • Rottweiler
  • Giant Schnauzer
  • Fila Brasileiro

Interestingly, would-be intruders are often more frightened of dogs that are black than they are those that are white, and of breeds, they recognize for certain to be a threat (Rottweiler, Doberman.)

4. Therapy Dogs 

Some people confuse therapy dogs with service dogs, but they are two separate areas of dog service. Unlike other groups of "hero" dogs, therapy dogs can come from nearly any breed or mixture of breeds as long as the dog is patient and friendly with a mild, even temperament.

Therapy dogs tend to enjoy visiting with people, and also interact with other dogs in a positive manner. These dogs are typically trained on a leash in order to learn exceptional behavior while under the control of their trainer. Because these dogs often work with people who are sick or disabled in a clinical setting, they are capable of remaining calm in distractive situations that would cause an untrained dog to act out showing excitement or aggression.

People often underestimate the power of a dog for those who are sick or disabled. Those dogs who are chosen to become therapy dogs must be healthy; coyotes, wolf or coyote hybrids, and wolves are not permitted due to the fact that they cannot be proven as immune to rabies.

Therapy Dogs
People who are confined to spaces in various health care facilities find therapy dogs to provide great comfort and companionship. Using dogs as an aid in healing is a therapy that has been long recognized. Patients can pet or brush a dog, or even have them sit in their laps if the size of the dog permits. The use of these dogs has been shown to benefit patients by lowering blood pressure and stress because of their calming effect.

Some handlers teach their therapy dogs to shake hands or wave, as this can be great conversation starters. Schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and libraries are a few of the settings where you may see therapy dogs interacting with people. Dogs can be calming or entertaining, helping those who are sick or otherwise disabled to take their minds off of their problems. As the name implies, therapy dogs are very therapeutic both physically and emotionally.

5. Assistance Dogs 

Also referred to as service dogs, assistance dogs may assist those who are blind, deaf, who has autism, or even those who suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.) Of all of the "hero" dogs, the things these dogs can do are perhaps the most amazing.

From turning light switches on and off and barking when help is needed to pulling wheelchairs and reaching items impossible for the individual they are assisting to reach, assistance dogs are literally life-savers for many people, allowing them to live independent lives in many cases.

Assistance Dogs
Assistance dogs possess exceptional health, as the organizations that train these dogs typically invest significant amounts of both time and money to ensure that the dogs are in optimum health regarding mental aspects (temperament, sound sensitivity,) metabolic factors, and physical health (eyes, elbows, shoulders, hips. etc.) This is because these dogs must be healthy in order to perform their job well and be of value to those who need their assistance.

There seem to be no limits to the roles that dogs can play in our lives. From the ordinary pet who provides our families with friendship and security to dogs that provide companionship for the elderly and SAR dogs that can help in rescuing our loved ones when they are lost or injured, dogs are an invaluable asset to the human race.

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