A Healing Dog’s Remarkable Instinct

Posted on May 5, 2015 by Dr. Lynda

You’ve got to admit that there are ordinary dogs, and their are dogs that seem to carry on as if they know more than we will ever know.

Image: Nala the working, comfort dog
Source: KARE

If you have been lucky enough to have known such a animal, then you’ll understand my difficulty in describing this kind of special kinship.

So today on EWC, we’ll introduce you to a wonderful representative from the dog world.

In our  video share, we meet a working dog that somehow knows her role in the lives of others and goes about her day with a mindful purpose that’s difficult to fathom. Take a look.

Via:USA TODAY 1

What do we know about a healing dog’s remarkable instinct?

Here’s an excerpt from what National Geographic News had to say about the subject of comfort dogs in an article by Amanda Fiegl, published in December of 2012…

The Human-Canine Bond

Why does petting a dog make us feel better? It’s not just because they’re cute, says Brian Hare, director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center.

The human-canine bond goes back thousands of years. Dogs descend from wolves and have been attracted to humans ever since we began living in settlements—a source of tasty garbage. That created an advantage for wolves to live near humans, and since it tended to be the less aggressive wolves that could do this more effectively, they essentially self-domesticated over time, according to Hare.

(Read more about the evolutionary history of dogs in the February 2012 National Geographic magazine cover story, “How To Build a Dog.”)

Part of what makes dogs special is that they are one of the only species that does not generally exhibit xenophobia, meaning fear of strangers, says Hare.

 

“We’ve done research on this, and what we’ve found is that not only are most dogs totally not xenophobic, they’re actually xenophilic—they lovestrangers!” Hare said. “That’s one way in which you could say dogs are ‘better’ than people. We’re not always that welcoming.”

People also benefit from interacting with canines. Simply petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones, regulate breathing, and lower blood pressure. Research also has shown that petting releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and affection, in both the dog and the human.

 

Do Dogs Have Empathy?

 

In situations like the Newtown shootings, it makes a lot of sense that dogs would be an effective form of comfort, says psychologist Debbie Custance of Goldsmiths College, University of London.

“Dogs are social creatures that respond to us quite sensitively, and they seem to respond to our emotions,” she said.

 

Custance recently led a study to see whether dogs demonstrated empathy. She asked volunteers to either pretend to cry, or just “hum in a weird way.” Would the dogs notice the difference?

 

“The response was extraordinary,” she said. Nearly all of the dogs came over to nuzzle or lick the crying person, whether it was the owner or a stranger, while they paid little attention when people were merely humming.

 

“We’re not saying this is definitive evidence that dogs have empathy—but I can certainly understand why people would think they do, at least,” Custance said.

 

Other animals can also be useful in what’s known as “animal-assisted therapy.” The national organization Pet Partners has 11,000 registered teams of volunteer handlers and animals that visit nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and victims of tragedy and disaster. Although most of the teams use dogs, some involve horses, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and even barnyard animals like pigs and chickens.

 

The presence of an animal can help facilitate a discussion with human counselors or simply provide wordless emotional release, said Rachel Wright, director of Pet Partners’ therapy animal program. The group plans to deploy several teams of therapy dogs to Newtown in the near future, working closely with agencies that are already present in the community, she said.

To some, the idea of sending a dog to a grieving person might seem too simplistic. But Custance says that very simplicity is part of what makes the connection between humans and canines so powerful. 2


Click here to read the entire National Geographic article.

So what are we to make of little Nala’s purposeful and self-directed visiting route around the nursing home? Does she know how much she means to these people? And is she getting as much as she’s giving? We may never know.

But we can say, today’s insight brings a smile of wonder, and that is a gift to us all.

Make it a great day. Do something good (even if it’s a small thing) to expand out in ever widening circles.

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collage malala

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~Dr. Lynda

 

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