The Special Bond Between Pets & People
Scientists define the human-animal bond as, a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors essential to the well being of both. This definition encompasses all human-animal relationships including livestock and wildlife. This definition seems too broad for the scope of this article so, it will address only domestic house pets, particularly dogs.
It’s possible that people and domestic animals have been living together for as much as 20,000 years. Scientific evidence now leads us to believe we first domesticated the dog back when all dogs were wolves and they competed directly with people for the same food sources. Wolves/dogs and people live in very similar groups (called “packs” with wolves or dogs and “families” with people), with very similar hierarchies and social structures. Most packs and most families have a single leader (called “alpha” with dogs and wolves) and a hierarchy based on gender, age and ability to contribute to the group. These may be three of the biggest reasons why we were able to domesticate the dog and are certainly among the most important reasons that the bond between people and dogs, which began nearly 20 millennia ago is still as strong to this day.
Research increasingly shows that our dogs may know us better than we know ourselves. They don’t understand the words we use or the things we do, but they seem to understand the tone in our voice, the expressions we show on our face and our emotions. Some suggest that dogs may even “feel” energy coming off us. Whatever the mechanism involved, it’s clear that with time and effort on the part of both dog and person, our dogs can do many remarkable things.
We both seem to benefit greatly by this relationship, we have nurtured longer than civilization itself. Our dogs certainly do seem to respond to kindness, love and food from us. They seem willing, even eager to protect, serve and obey us with very little encouragement. Many people report that having a dog at home gives them an increased sense of security, that holding and petting their dog can bring them calm. Some have their pets sleep in bed with them, others make caring for their pet a lifelong hobby.
Some scientists find it remarkable that two species have coexisted so closely together for so long and yet, we share very few communicable diseases between us (we aren’t even susceptible to the same flu viruses). Other scientists are finding it even more remarkable that dogs may be able to detect some human diseases such as cancer.
As shown on the American news program 60 Minutes (http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/60minutes/main3415.shtml) in January 2005, British doctors proved that some dogs could detect bladder cancer in humans, apparently by smell. There are many stories throughout history and up to the present day about dogs saving their owners, or traveling thousands of miles to reunite with a lost human, and even sounding alarms and fetching help in times of crisis. A web search even provides video of a German shepherd that recently guided authorities to the burning house in which the dog’s owner was trapped.
We let our pets take over our lives, permitting them to do things they, perhaps, shouldn’t. They so completely charm us and work their way into our hearts, minds and every part of our lives. This symbiosis certainly works well for both of us. As a lifelong pet owner, the author has felt this bond with every dog he’s ever had. My dogs have saved my life more than once and from the time I was a toddler when my parents got our first dog, an Old English sheepdog named Theory, I’ve thought of my dogs not as possessions but family.
The bond between people and their dogs keeps growing, many cultures that once considered the dog as a filthy animal to be spurned, have begun to show interest in some of the ways the human-dog bond can help their culture such as in medicine, psychology, law enforcement and military among others. Numerous countries around the world, traditionally not “dog-friendly” now have laws permitting disabled service dogs and therapy animals in rehabilitation.
In Los Angeles and other major American cities, dog owners can get counseling, do yoga and get spa treatments right alongside their faithful canine companions. Dog parks, beaches and boutiques are opening everywhere. Everything from astrology to psychiatry is available for both dog and owner.
I’ve long known how fortunate I was to have such deep and abiding relationships with so many pets in my life. Honestly, as I’m sure many of you feel as well, I think I shall always have a dog in my life. Each one is their own individual with personality, likes and dislikes. I’ve loved them all, they’ve each given me one remarkable thing I’ve never found anywhere else – complete, positive reinforcement and love. I’m a much better person because of it.
To read more about the human-animal bond, visit the American Humane Association (http://www.americanhumane.org/human-animal-bond/), the Center for the Animal- Human Bond at Purdue University (http://www.vet.purdue.edu/chab/), or the AVMA (http://www.avma.org/issues/human_animal_bond/default.asp).