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VET SPEAK: Furry companions offer a great sense of comfort to us all

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Group of dogs
Group of dogs

It has been a sad and emotional time since the recent passing of our wonderful Queen Elizabeth II, writes Alison Laurie-Chalmers.

As we reflect on this past month, the days since her passing have brought home many emotions of personal loss and grieving for many. These emotions surface when we remember the previous loss of our own close family members, and it has also brought home the frailty of our own loved ones and family members in our own lives.

During any time of emotion and grieving, our pets can be a great comfort and strength to all of us. Our pet dogs do give us their loyalty and unwavering and unconditional love and attention, something that we all occasionally need. Throughout her long reign Queen Elizabeth II always had her faithful, beloved Corgis by her side.

We now know that dogs’ brains process language in a very similar way to humans, with the right side dealing with emotion and the left processing meaning. Also, dogs also seem to have an uncanny additional “sixth sense” and intuition when it comes to understanding human emotional needs.

When you are feeling upset, a dog can often act as a better confidant than any other human. They can also “listen” better and respond appropriately to your emotions, and they are always sincere and genuinely care about your feelings.

Dogs are highly social animals and are capable of strong emotional connections. To your dog, you are “family”, it is as simple as that. Of course, there are many other fascinating things that your dog understands about you that you may not even be aware of. Research shows that sometimes their intuitive abilities can be quite astounding.

Alison Laurie-Chalmers.
Alison Laurie-Chalmers.

When you feel sad, your dog will immediately pick up on this and adjust his behaviour accordingly. After a while, he may come over and lie down at your feet, or gently rest his head in your lap. Many dogs will nudge and lick your hand to comfort you.

A dog’s master and family are the centre of his entire world, so sensing your feelings of sadness will influence him too. Researchers found that a dog was more likely to approach someone who was crying than someone who was laughing, humming, or talking.

Furthermore, they found that dogs respond to weeping with a gentle submissive behaviour. Dogs intuitively seem to naturally try to comfort a person who is upset. What is more fascinating is that it has been found that dogs will approach anyone who is upset the same way, regardless of whether that person is their owner or not. Scientists say that this study does not fully prove that dogs experience empathy, but this certainly does go a long way to supporting the claim.

We know that dogs working as assistance pets can be intuitive enough to know when their master needs help. Trained assistance dogs are truly wonderful, and they give so much invaluable support to so many who need their help. For example, assistance support dogs for autistic children can give the parent and child a newfound independence by helping the child remain calm and focused. A fully trained autism assistance dog can help change the child’s behaviour by introducing safe routines and by interrupting repetitive behaviour and they help them cope better with their surroundings in and out of their home. They provide a controlled, safer environment for the child allowing them to feel more secure and have transformed the lives of families affected by autism. Also, the carefully trained Hearing Dogs and Guide Dogs provide admirable, invaluable aid and support for their handlers, enabling them to lead more independent lives.

Read More: VET SPEAK: Follow dental and diet advice with your new puppies

Also, other assistance “Therapet” dogs provide a comfort to many by visiting the sick and infirm in Hospitals and in Care Homes, and by supporting Children in Childrens Hospitals. Now Colleges and Universities worldwide are turning to therapy support dogs to relieve their students’ stresses, pre-exam nerves and first-term homesickness by providing them with a sympathetic canine “friend”. Also, there are other incredibly trained working dogs: The Police dogs, tracker, and drug alert dogs, and The Armed Forces working dogs. Also, there are “medic alert” diabetic and seizure alert dogs, who are trained carefully to alert and assist their owners with any concerns or change in their medical conditions.

As we learn more and more about a dog’s innate intelligence, we learn just how much they can help us as their owners, and on how they help others. Their intelligence is often unappreciated, and their kindness is always sincere and unconditional. Dogs have no hidden agenda.

They are also loyal family pets and wonderful companions, deserving of our good care and attention. Providing them with a safe, loving home, with a healthy diet, exercise, enrichment, and good, lifelong health care, is something that we can do for them in return.

- Alison Laurie-Chalmers is a senior consultant at Crown Vets.

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