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The magic of owning a dog

AFTER a long day of work there really is nothing better than seeing one's dog.

AFTER a long day of work there really is nothing better than seeing one's dog.

Whether you are walking in the front door of your home or walking out of your home office the gentle loving eyes of a dog seem to make the stressful day vanish in thin air, like magic!

I think I speak for the masses when I say that interacting with a dog is the ultimate antidote to stress relief.

But what is it exactly about dogs that releases stress from within us?

It comes as no surprise that the Internet is full of studies on how dogs relieve stress. But it may come as a surprise that most of these studies are relatively recent.

In a study by Heather Grimshaw titled "A Four-Legged Cure," a group of people were presented with a series of stressful tasks to be performed within four different situations. In the first situation the person was alone while the stressful task was performed.

In the next situation, the person was with their spouse during the task. The third situation involved performing the stressful task while with a pet and the final one was performing the stressful task with both their spouse and their pet. People experienced the lowest stress response and the quickest recovery from stress in the situation where they were only with their pet.

It was surmised that simply being in the (non-judgemental) environment of a dog helped to minimize the stress response from the participants.

Hmm. Interesting. Makes a darn good excuse for bringing your dog to work doesn't it?

So if dogs can help alleviate stress better than a loving, supportive family member, are they also able to make you happy?

Being happy and being free of stress are two different things.

We have all heard that happiness comes from the inside as a result of being happy with oneself, not from exterior material possessions.

Yet dogs, in theory, are our possessions. So if we were to apply the internal happiness theory it would imply that dogs cannot make us happy.

I suspect if we were to rely on anecdotal evidence alone, we would all unanimously agree and shout "Yes!," our dogs do indeed make us happier people. But we don't really know the reason as to how this happens other than the usual unconditional non-judgmental love.

So how can a dog make us happy?

Well it seems that the mere act of petting a dog causes a chain of events to occur within our bodies and within an instant of stroking your dogs soft head, neurotransmitters instantly begin to do the happy dance, Gangnam-style. The really cool thing is that no matter how much we try to stop it (meaning, no matter how miserable we are or want to be) we can't. It's involuntary. We get happier by simply petting a dog.

No need to retreat to an expensive spa for the afternoon. A plethora of studies indicate that spending quality or cuddle time with a dog elevates the beneficial hormones like oxytocin, which is linked to feelings of connection, worthiness, bliss and peacefulness. And it happens fast - in as little as five minutes there is such a high increase of endorphins and dopamines flooded into our bodies that our crabby moods do a complete 180 and we begin to feel all relaxed and happy.

So dogs are good for our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.

All this means is that coming home to your dog is probably the best thing you can do to improve and maintain your overall health.

This magic is something that we dog lovers have known for a long time though.

Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for over 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at