Gryffin Penn, journalist
While a dog is only a part of your life, you are their entire world. Close to half of all American households have at least one dog in their family. Dogs are amazing, furry four-legged best friends to humans. They are loyal, highly intelligent, love unconditionally, and are extremely mindful creatures.
Obviously, dogs make great companions, but they can also provide humans with support in their daily lives. Many are trained to save lives. Some are guide dogs trained to help the blind and deaf. Others work as happy therapy dogs for the elderly, or those struggling with mental illness. Some heroic service dogs include police K9s, along with Search and Rescue (“SAR”) dogs.
The blind and the deaf face many challenges in their daily lives. One particularly difficult situation for blind people is the pain of isolation. That’s where a great affectionate dog comes in. Guide dogs help by navigating their human friends safely outside of the home. In this role they are essentially the eyes or ears of their human handler. With their support, a blind or deaf person can live more independently. For example, guide dogs for the deaf alert their handlers if a fire alarm goes off, doorbell rings, oven timer alarms, or other household sounds. It is no wonder that a strong bond develops between dog and human in these situations. They truly care for each other, and often become best friends.
Although it feels natural for people to interact with a cute dog as it walks down the street, one should not engage a service dog in any way. That means no talking, touching or feeding, while the service dog is wearing its vest. Guide dogs are trained from a very young age to perform a job for their handler. Service dogs are not like your average pet, and should not be treated like one. Distracting a service animal could endanger its handler, so service dogs should not be approached while working.
Animal therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety, ease loneliness, and social isolation for senior citizens and mentally ill patients. According to UCLA Health, interacting with a pet, regardless of type, releases serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin hormones. These hormones can boost happiness and good feelings. Dogs help people feel well and happy, and actually become well and happier.
Did you ever wonder why dogs smell everything? While humans use their eyes to assess their surroundings, dogs use their noses. In fact, dogs use their sense of smell to understand everything happening in their world. Located between the roof of a dog’s mouth and bottom of the nasal passage is an organ called the vomeronasal. It’s also known as the Jacobson’s organ, and it detects pheromones. The average dog has around 100 million smell receptors in their noses. Compare that with a human’s five to six million smell receptors. Remarkably, the German Shepherd breed has 225 million smell receptors, which makes them the ultimate police and SAR animal.
Law enforcement dogs are breed and temperament specific. The Elgian Malinois, German Shepherds, and Dutch Shepherds are often used to apprehend suspects because of physical strength and fearlessness. Such dogs are trained to attack and detain suspects until their human partners arrive on scene. Police dogs are also trained to sniff out narcotics and explosives. Training a dog to sniff out narcotics requires care. First, the dog is trained to find an unscented white towel, followed by an illegal substance. Examples of one illegal substance after another are introduced, until the dog learns to locate all of them. Explosive training uses a similar method, using different types of chemicals and explosives for the dog to find.
Search and Rescue dogs help search for victims in a lot of different ways. They are trained to find lost hikers and campers, underwater victims, even people buried under debris from earthquakes, avalanches or explosions. The phenomenal German Shepherd breed can detect a scent from over a mile away on land, 80 feet underwater, and up to 40 feet underground. That ability makes them the top SAR dog.
Dogs have been man’s best friend since the dawn of time. It appears that the domesticated canine evolved from wolves some 40,000 years ago. Dogs keep us company, love us unconditionally, protect us, and help us in many ways. The evidence is clear. Everyone should have, or at least make friends with, an amazing canine soon.
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