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Dogs like running, therapy dogs make people feel good, and other “oh duh” studies

In my daily perusal of what in the world is going on with dogs, I am constantly amazed at how many studies are done on things we already know — and how quick news organizations are to pounce on those studies and present them as something new.

Take last week’s Washington Post, which tells us in a headline, “Dogs can get a runner’s high, too.”

Pfffft. Dogs invented the runner’s high. We didn’t need a headline to know, least of all one based on a 2012 study.

The article goes on to tell us that running is healthy for dogs and humans, that running “gives dogs an activity and burns energy,” and, of course, that dogs and humans should check with their vets and doctors before beginning an exercise program.

I don’t know how much of this stating of the painfully obvious that goes on today is because we have run out of new things to say, study and report on; or how much is the result of so-called news websites providing dumbed-down “content,” instead of news.

But it seems like everybody — from scientist to journalist — is in repeat mode. Or maybe I’m just old.

SONY DSCAlso making news last week was the “recent finding” that dogs respond best to high-pitched voices.

This, at least, stems from a new study in which scientists at the University of York have shown that using high-pitched baby-talk voices can help us bond with their dogs.

Of course, the study found basically the same thing as others in recent years, including this one from more than a year ago.

Now any scientist will tell you that’s there is value in these studies that tell us what we already know — whether we already know them from common sense, or because of similar earlier studies that found the same thing. It is always good to confirm things

News organizations, on the other hand, will take the findings of any study, hype them up and present them as the most important breaking news of the day — even if they did the same thing last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

They know, even with Google, our collective memory is short, so they trot out the same old pieces regularly — should you let your dog sleep with you, should you let your dog lick you, why do dogs eat grass? — and they either find experts or studies to legitimize them.

Just last week, with the news that Barbra Streisand has two cloned dogs, the topic of dog cloning became instantly hot, and many a news outlet presented the story in a you’re-not-going-to-believe-this, dogs-are-being-CLONED!!! kind of way.

Having written a book on the very topic seven years ago, I was amused how the news was suddenly a revelation again.

I’m sure scientists somewhere are studying how short our memories and attention spans are becoming, and that I’ll be reading about it soon.

Until then, there will be plenty of other scientific “revelations” to keep me busy, like this one — unearthed by hardworking researchers at the University of British Columbia:

Therapy dogs make people feel good.

acetWell, that’s kind of why they have been popping up everywhere in the past 20 years — to do just that.

And what led to those initial revelations, years ago? Studies.

This new one, published in the journal Stress and Health, shows that exposure to therapy dogs helps boost students’ well-being. Researchers interviewed 246 students before and after cuddle and petting sessions with therapy dogs.

Students felt significantly less stressed and more energized after interacting with the dogs, though the happy feelings weren’t necessarily lasting, InsideHigherEd.com reported.

In other words, the feel-good vibe a dog gives you — like a news report, like a scientific study, like many a book — will soon be forgotten.

(Photos by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

The dogs of Amazon: Their numbers keep growing

Just as the number of employees is skyrocketing at Amazon’s Seattle campus, so too are the number of dogs.

Not too long ago, the company boasted that 4,000 dogs were coming to work regularly with employees.

In this recent post on the Amazon blog, it was revealed there are now 6,000 dogs “working” at Amazon’s Seattle campus, which has about 40,000 employees.

Of course not that many show up on campus every day — only about 500 do — but that’s the number of dogs Amazon’s dogs at work program has registered.

For those who do come along, it’s a pretty sweet set up. They have a “doggie deck” with a fake fire hydrant where dogs can run around and burn off energy. They also have “Dogs Only” water fountains, a 1,000-square-foot dog park with rocks and other structures to climb on, poop bag stations, designated dog relief areas, receptionists armed with dog treats, a doggie treat truck called The Seattle Barkery, and regularly scheduled dog events.

Amazon even has it’s own equivalent of a human resources chief for dogs — Lara Hirschfield, the company’s “Woof Pack” manager.

“The dog-friendly policy also contributes to the company’s culture of collaboration.” Hirschfield said in the blog post. “Dogs in the workplace is an unexpected mechanism for connection. I see Amazonians meeting each other in our lobbies or elevators every day because of their dogs.”

There are no breed or size restrictions.

The policy reflects the company’s belief that pets at work can reduce stress, increase productivity, improve morale, expedite social interaction, improve job satisfaction and provide companionship. A few moments relaxing with a dog, can improve concentration on the job afterwards.

The dog friendly policy dates back to a pup named Rufus, a Welsh corgi who belonged to Amazon’s former editor-in-chief and principal engineer. Rufus came to work every day, and employees would even use Rufus’ paw to click a computer mouse when launching early pages on Amazon. Rufus died in 2009, and a building on the Amazon campus is named after him.

You can see more of the dogs of Amazon here.

Those living with a dog tend to live longer


Dog owners have a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, according to a comprehensive new study published by a team of Swedish researchers.

The scientists followed 3.4 million people over the course of 12 years and found that adults who live alone and owned a dog were 33 percent less likely to die during the study than adults who lived alone without dogs.

In addition, the single adults with dogs were 36 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, the study said.

While it’s already accepted that dog ownership can boost activity levels and lower blood pressure, especially among older people, the study was the largest to date on the health implications of owning a dog, according to WebMD.

The Swedish scientists analyzed seven national data registries in Sweden, including two dog ownership registers, to study the association between owning a dog and cardiovascular health.

And while their findings are Sweden-specific, they believe they probably apply to other European countries with a similar attitude to dog ownership.

Interestingly, they also found a connection between positive health effects and breeds.

“In general hunting type breeds had the most protective estimates, while mixed breeds and toy breeds the least,” said Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

The study doesn’t explain how dogs may be responsible for providing protection from cardiovascular disease, but Tove speculated higher levels of activity and social contact lead to better health.

tove_dog_health“As a veterinarian I heard many stories on that vast impact a dog can have on their owner’s well-being and also on their physical activity levels,” she said.

The study’s authors suggested dog owners may have a lower risk because they walk more, feel less isolated and have more social contacts.

More than 3.4 million individuals, aged 40 to 80, were included in the study, which was published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household,” said Mwenya Mubanga, a Ph.D. student at Uppsala University and the lead junior author of the study.

The link between dog ownership and lower mortality was less pronounced in adults who lived either with family members or partners, but still present, according to the study.

(Photo: My dog Ace; Tove, with her puppy, Vega)

Two new studies show dogs can protect children from allergies, eczema

SONY DSC Even before your human baby is born, having a dog in the house can protect him or her against developing allergic eczema.

According to a study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, babies born in a home with a dog during pregnancy receive protection from allergic eczema, at least in their early years.

The study was one on two presented at the conference in Boston dealing with protections dogs provide to children with allergies — even allergies to dogs.

In the second study, researchers examined the effects of two different types of dog exposure on children with asthma in Baltimore, according to Medical News Today.

The first type was the protein, or allergen, that affects children who are allergic to dogs. The second type were elements, such as bacteria, that a dog might carry.

The researchers concluded that exposure to the elements that dogs carry may have a protective effect against asthma symptoms. But exposure to the allergen may result in more asthma symptoms among urban children with dog allergy.

“Among urban children with asthma who were allergic to dogs, spending time with a dog might be associated with two different effects,” says Po-Yang Tsou, MD, MPH, lead author. “There seems to be a protective effect on asthma of non-allergen dog-associated exposures, and a harmful effect of allergen exposure.”

In the first study, led by ACAAI member Dr. Gagandeep Cheema, researchers investigated how exposure to dogs before birth influenced the risk of childhood eczema.

Eczema is a condition characterized by rashes and patches of dry, itchy skin, most commonly on the hands, feet, face, elbows and knees.

While the causes of eczema remain unclear, it is believed to arise when the immune system overreacts in response to certain allergens or irritants.

“Although eczema is commonly found in infants, many people don’t know there is a progression from eczema to food allergies to nasal allergies and asthma,” Cheema said in a press release. “We wanted to know if there was a protective effect in having a dog that slowed down that progress.”

“We found a mother’s exposure to dogs before the birth of a child is significantly associated with lower risk of eczema by age 2 years, but this protective effect goes down at age 10,” says allergist Edward M. Zoratti, MD, ACAAI member and a study co-author.

(A girl and her dog in Baltimore, by John Woestendiek)

Professor Beauregard Tirebiter joins USC staff — but let’s not call him a “facility dog”


The University of Southern California has added a new staff member at its student health center, and he’s already making people feel better.

Professor Beauregard Tirebiter is a black, two-year-old goldendoodle.

After witnessing the positive effects visiting therapy dogs had on students, university officials decided they should have one based in the student health center full time.

The addition of Beau to the staff makes USC one of the few universities in the United States with a full-time “facility dog” on staff, USC News reported.

We applaud the university for that — but not for the label “facility dog.”

Surely all the great minds at that institution could have come up with a better term than that.

As the university Office for Wellness and Health Promotion explained it,
“a facility dog is similar to a therapy dog, but rather than being trained to work periodically with individuals, he’s trained to work with a multitude of people on a regular basis in a facility such as a hospital, school or nursing home.”

Why not just call him what he is, a therapy dog? There should be no stigma attached to that, and no need to tiptoe around it. Everybody needs therapy, especially a student, particularly during finals.

Calling him a “facility dog” is pretty vague. Defining him by the building he works in, as opposed to his job/mission, is a little insulting, like the term “junkyard dog.”

And “facility” is so similar to “faculty” that some hastily compiled news reports are calling him the latter.

beauregard3Beau (and perhaps that’s the best thing to call him) is not officially a faculty member. Possibly he is teaching students more than many professors manage, but he is staff, not faculty.

Beau did come to campus with a curriculum vitae, though. He was trained at Canine Angels Service Teams in Oregon.

He has office hours, and his own business cards, and paw prints lead students to his location at the Engemann Student Health Center.

He was purchased with money from a donation by the Trojan League of Los Angeles, an alumni group, to promote student wellness.

Beau has been on campus for a few weeks now. He goes home at night with Amanda Vanni, his handler and a health promotion specialist at the center.

In hiring Beau, the university seems to be acknowledging all the research that shows dogs can help decrease stress, create a sense of calm and well being, and that contact with them can increase serotonin, beta-endorphin and oxytocin – chemicals and hormones that make people happy.

Paula Lee Swinford, director of the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, said Beau will also help create a sense of community at USC.

“We wanted to do something that would change our culture,” she said. “What Beau brings is a consistent relationship for students. … He will remember them.”

Speaking of culture change, the university might want to take another look at its antiquated policy that bans dogs from classrooms, university housing, offices and research areas because they can be “disruptive as well as unsanitary.”

(Photos by Gus Ruelas / USC)

Woof or roof: A dilemma for the homeless

When you’re homeless, you can run into a lot of Catch 22’s — those can’t-win situations that, even when you’re taking steps to improve your life, tend to make things appear even more hopeless.

Having a dog is a perfect example.

To a homeless person, having a dog (or, in the case of our Monday post, a cat) can have numerous benefits: Protection, for one. It can instill a greater will to survive and succeed. It can provide some self-esteem, emotional security, and companionship for sure — the kind that comes without judgment.

While some segments of society may be repulsed by the sight of you, your dog will always be thrilled.

But having a dog when you’re homeless can also be a tremendous obstacle — keeping you from being admitted to homeless shelters, finding the money to feed it, and making already problematic chores, like going to the bathroom, even more problematic.

Still, it’s not unusual that, when given a choice between shelter and their dog, the dog often comes first — as has been the case so far with a recently homeless woman and her boxer mix, named Cow, featured in a two-part series in the Toledo Blade this week.

“She is my whole world, my rock. I don’t know what I’d do without her.” 51-year-old Diann Wears said of her dog.

Wears, who in earlier stages of her troubled life worked as a prostitute and was addicted to crack, said it is her first time living on the streets.

wearsandcowShe says she left an abusive five-year relationship in July, and now she sleeps, with Cow, behind the Greyhound Bus station in downtown Toledo.

“It’s totally new to me and totally scary, I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “But Cow and I, we have each other, and she gives me a lot of love and support.”

She says she tried to find an apartment that her Social Security and Supplemental Security Income would cover, but “they either turned me down because of Cow, or because I don’t make enough money.”

She has no intention of parting with Cow, she said.

Toledo’s homeless shelters — like most across the country — do not allow pets, and she was rejected, she said, by a YWCA shelter that provides haven for women fleeing domestic violence and their pets.

“They don’t think I’m in danger from my ex,” Wears said.

So Wears and Cow remain without shelter — unless you count the overhang of the bus station’s roof.

Having a dog, Wears noted, makes simple tasks, like attending a free meal, more difficult. She either has to leave Cow outside, leashed to her shopping cart, or find a friend she trusts enough to watch him.

Sometimes, she says, it’s hard to simply find a place in the shade to rest — without being told to leave, either because of the dog or because she is loitering.

She often sits on the grass at St. Paul United Methodist Church, where the pastor allows her to stay as long as neither she nor Cow causes any trouble, the Blade reported. (You can find part two of the series here.)

“We don’t bother anybody, but people judge us anyway because we’re homeless,” Diann said. “Or they’re afraid of Cow, even when she’s just lying there.”

Wears said Cow provides her some protection during the night.

Unsure as she is of the future, she is committed to two things — keeping Cow by her side and not going back to her abusive boyfriend.

“It’s hard out here, but I’m away from that at least I’ll take my chances out here. I have my dog and we’ll survive one way or the other, some kind of way.”

(Photo: The Toledo Blade)

Two hearts beating as one? Study suggests, with dogs and owners, it’s almost true

Even though this may be more marketing than science, we can’t help but like the results of this experiment in Australia.

Researchers, in an experiment funded by Pedigree, found that not only do our heart rates lower when we and our pets are together (as everybody knows by now), but they begin to mirror one another.

True, only three dogs and owners were involved in the study. True, the main interest of the company that sponsored it is to sell dog food. And true, what’s new about their findings — how closely the heart rates align — is probably of more poetic than practical use.

But still … It’s good to have a little science (if it can be called that) confirm our feelings of being in sync with our dogs.

In the experiment, three Australian dog owners separated, and then reunited with their pet in a staged but homey setting to see what kind of effect they had on each other’s heart rate.

Both dogs and owners were equipped with heart monitors.

“There was a really strong coherence in the heart rate pattern of both the owner and dog. Upon being reunited within the first minute, each heart rhythm became almost directly aligned and we saw a reduction straight away,” Mia Cobb, canine scientist and demonstration co-conductor told The Huffington Post Australia.

“This project is a really good illustration of what most owners experience every night when they come home from work and are reunited with their companion,” she added.