Dogs have long been considered "man's best friend." It's fair to say that they have certainly earned the title. The bond between humans and canines is unmistakable. Since the domestication of the dog, people have been drawn to them (and they to us). Dogs have helped us in so many ways and expect little in return. They have hunted with us, kept vermin and pests away, served the military and police, assisted the disabled, and faithfully remained our loyal companions.
In turn, we care for them and provide them with a good quality of life. This is more than a fair trade. In fact, it is a downright bargain. How did this bond become so strong? What can we do to preserve and strengthen it?
A Brief History of the Domesticated Dog
The mysterious history of dogs has been revealed primarily through archaeological research. Evidence of prehistoric dog-like creatures shows us that the evolution of the dog can actually be traced back millions of years. The transition of some wolves into dogs probably began upwards of 100,000 years ago, but the domesticated dog likely dates back anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 years. Some believe that humans set out to domesticate dogs by "breeding" for specific traits, though this may not actually be the case. By nature, dogs are scavengers, so one theory suggests that dogs began to follow human hunters for food. Regardless of how it all started, the human-canine bond has blossomed and strengthened over time and will likely continue to grow.
What Dogs Do for Humans
Companionship is perhaps the most obvious thing that dogs give us, but this is only the beginning. Scientific evidence has proven that many health benefits come along with pet ownership. Our dogs help us relax, lower our blood pressure, keep us active and more. Dogs happily work for us, too.
Service dogs can assist those with mental or physical disabilities, work as search-and-rescue dogs, guard valuable property and protect us from harm by sniffing out threats and criminal activity. Even our companion dogs can be trained to proudly defend our homes and families.
What's in It for the Dogs
The domesticated dog has evolved to be quite dependent upon humans. Though dogs can still often survive in the wild, they thrive with the care humans can provide. All we really need to do is look out for our dogs' best interests. We must be responsible dog owners and fulfill their basic needs: food, shelter, healthcare and so on. We must train them so they understand their jobs (and they find joy in that). It is truly a win-win situation.
Great Ways to Bond With Your Dog
The bond you have with your dog begins the moment he comes into your life and never stops growing. However, there are ways to reinforce the bond throughout your dog's life. Participation in activities with your dog is the best way to do this. It can be as simple as a walk, a game, or a training session. Here are some ideas for bonding time:
- Spend time with your dog. We tend to have such busy lives that our dogs can sometimes feel ignored. Talk to your dog. Look at your dog. Pet your dog. Scratch behind his ears. Tell him what a good boy he is! Bring your dog with you when you travel. Include your dog in family activities. Have fun together indoors when the weather is bad.
- Exercise together. Your dog needs exercise to stay healthy, and so do you. Why not combine the two? Look for ways to exercise together. It can be a simple as walking or running together. Or, for something a little different, you can try hiking or cycling. No matter what you choose, your dog will be glad to spend the time with you and you both will feel the health benefits of exercise.
- Try a dog sport or two. Speaking of exercise, another great way to stay active with your dog is to get involved in a dog sport. Several dog sports, like agility, require the dog and handler to work closely together and communicate well to attain a goal. Think about which dog sports would best fit your dog's personality (and yours). Then, find groups in your area. You can start by taking a class and seeing how your dog likes the activity.
- Work on dog training. You probably already know that training is essential for all dogs. You can and should train your dog on your own. In addition, taking a training class together can really reinforce the bond you share. The distractions in training class will challenge your dog to keep paying attention to you.
- Play games. It can be so much fun just to let loose and play a few games. Your dog would agree! Consider games like fetch, hide-and-seek, or tug-o-war. Or, make up your own game! You can involve the whole family (kids too). The only rules are that you and your dog should be having fun and that everyone stays safe.
- Become a therapy team. One of the kindest ways to bond with your dog and allow your dog to bond with others is to get involved with animal-assisted therapy. If your dog is right for pet therapy, he can visit people in hospitals and nursing homes or help children read and learn. Your dog may be able to help benefit the health and lift the spirits of people in need, all while having the time of his life.
- Be present. No matter how you choose to spend time with your dog, let it be fun and not forced. It's better to spend only five minutes together but be attentive and relaxed than to spend an hour together while feeling stressed and rushed.
Bonding with your dog strengthens and preserves your relationship. This is sure to benefit the health and well-being of both you and your dog.