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Vet speak: Dogs are there for us in so many ways

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Dogs often seem to understand when we are in need of comfort.
Dogs often seem to understand when we are in need of comfort.

Vet Alison Laurie-Chalmers considers all the ways in which dogs just 'get' us.

Over lockdown we had a family bereavement as a much-loved uncle passed away. I couldn’t attend the funeral due to travel restrictions at the time, and I was upset and crying. Our two dogs suddenly seemed aware of this change in my demeanour. Fern lay down at my feet watching me and Moss sat beside me and gently licked my hand, which was very unlike him. They both clearly knew I needed some comfort, and it really did help.

Our dogs give us unwavering, unconditional love, something we have all really needed over these past two difficult years.

Providing them with a safe, loving home, a healthy diet, exercise, enrichment and good lifelong health care is something we can do for them in return.

We now know that dogs’ brains process language in a similar way to humans, with the right side dealing with emotion and the left processing meaning.

Also, dogs also seem to be very intuitive when it comes to understanding emotional needs. They “listen” to you, respond appropriately to emotions and seem to genuinely care.

Dogs are highly social animals, capable of strong emotional connections. They have their own innate social structures and bonding rituals. The same emotional connections dogs experience in packs can transfer easily to any group setting. To your dog, you are important, you are “family”.

Of course, there are many other fascinating things your dog understands about you that you may not be aware of.

Researchers found that a dog was more likely to approach someone who was crying than someone laughing, humming or talking. Dogs seem to naturally try to comfort a person who is upset. What is more fascinating is that it has been found dogs will approach anyone who is upset the same way, regardless of whether that person is their owner or not. Scientists say this study does not fully prove that dogs experience empathy, but this certainly goes a long way to supporting the claim.

We know dogs working as assistance pets can be intuitive enough to know when their master needs help. For example, assistance dogs for the blind and deaf offer amazing, invaluable support and assistance dogs for autistic children can help them remain calm and focused. For example, a fully trained autism assistance dog can help adjust the child’s behaviour by introducing safe routines, and interrupting repetitive behaviours, helping them cope better with their surroundings. In time they provide a controlled, safe environment for the child, allowing them to feel more secure.

Also, “Therapet” dogs provide comfort and reassurance for hospital patients and residents in care homes. Many universities are also turning to pet therapy dogs to help relieve students’ pre-exam nerves and homesickness.

As we learn more and more about dogs’ intelligence and emotions, we learn just how wonderful they are, and how much they can help us. We can learn a lot from them – kindness is always unconditional with them. They are fantastic companions, deserving of our lifelong care.

For advice on your pets on-going healthcare contact your veterinary practice.

Best wishes for a very Happy New Year with all your lovely pets!

Alison Laurie-Chalmers is a senior consultant with Crown Vets in Inverness.

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