Analysis: our four-legged friends teach us patience, understanding, generosity and kindness

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Human–canine bonding is the special relationship that exists between dogs and people. For centuries, dogs have been labelled as a 'man's best friend,' offering unconditional love and loyalty to their human companions.

In 1914, evidence was discovered by stone quarry workers in Bonn-Oberkassel in Germany of the oldest burial of a domestic dog and the oldest known grave to contain both dogs and humans.

The human-canine grave dates back to more than 14,000 years ago and offers increasing evidence that suggests, that even as early as the Stone Age, we may have developed emotional attachments and strong human-canine bonds.

Fast-forward to the Middle Ages and there is overwhelming evidence that dogs were not just emotionally bonded to their humans but also performed specific, crucial tasks such as hunting, security, postal delivery, mountain rescue and chasing vermin.

The emergence of the domesticated dog in modern society has led to humans developing strong companion animal-keeping habits, which has grown immensely and shifted in purpose over time. In fact, in society today we have moved into a space where dogs are seen as very significant and important family members and even as stand-in or surrogate parents, friends, children and partners.

But is sharing your home with a pooch really a good idea? Life has taught us that keeping family pets can have an incredibly positive impact on our lives. History is replete with heart-warming stories of dogs that rescued and saved their owners from extraordinary situations such as blazing fires, falling off cliff tops and swimming accidents.

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On Radio 1's Today with Claire Byrne Kathleen Murray, Owner of Doggy Do's and Dont's in Donegal talks to Claire about looking after your dog.

There are even stories of dogs that have fought in wars, crossed continents, have flown in space and have shown courage and ‘dogged’ determination, that would be impressive if it had been demonstrated by a human hero, let alone a dog.

However, let's ‘paw-se’ for a minute and acknowledge that moving a dog into your family home is not a decision that should be taken lightly. In fact, it is just the very beginning of a life-long commitment and just like marriage we must promise to love and cherish our mutt in sickness and in health till death us do part.

While a dog benefits from a good home, just what do we get in return? It is fair to say that your furry friends give back in spades, not only do they support your emotional and physical well-being, but they also improve your quality of life, thereby inadvertently increasing your life expectancy.

So, just what are the factors going on in our relationship with dogs that support a better way of life? Well, one thing we love most about dogs is the zero judgement factor.

How refreshing is it to bare your soul to another and be met with puppy dog eyes full of love and adoration, no judgement and no advice. In this ‘dog-eat-dog’ world, our tail-wagging buddies are always there for us, through good times and bad.

They don’t care whether you are young or old, rich or poor, skinny or obese, successful or popular, they just accept us, for who and what we are. They are our friends when we are lonely and give us multiple reasons to laugh when we are sad.

They are loyal, faithful, judgment-free sounding boards for whom our presence, our affection, our voice, and our touch are the most important things in their lives. Dogs have zero expectations of us. They are always happy to see us, no matter if your ‘bark is worse than your bite’.

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On Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Vonna Nolan, Dogs Trust Ireland, has seen a large increase in the numbers of people taking online dog training classes

They give us unconditional love which is a rare and beautiful thing. It doesn't matter if you had a ‘dog awful day’, your beloved pooch is there for you when you get home.

Their presence alone can cause the human brain to produce oxytocin, a hormone which increases feelings of relaxation, trust, and empathy while reducing stress and anxiety. The process of empathy occurs through the natural affection we feel for animals which can be compared to the affection we feel for our children.

We impulsively view them as vulnerable and so we go out of our way to care for them and mind them, in other words our innate human desire to protect and nurture those who are innocent and helpless kicks in.

Recent studies have revealed that dog owners exhibited greater self-esteem and self-efficacy, were physically healthier, less lonely and more socially outgoing, and benefitted from healthier relationships, than non-dog owners.

Our four-legged friends teach us patience, understanding, generosity, and kindness. They are a catalyst for other healthy behaviours in our lives. They inspire us to get outside and be more active, which can lead to increased mental, emotional and physical well-being over time.

If you have a ‘lick of sense’, you can clearly see, that cohabiting with a dog is the pawfect life.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ