It is a cocktail party and the room is filled with people engaged in many different conversations. Suddenly you think that you hear someone mention your name. You don’t recognize the voice of the speaker, but your attentionhas been caught and you focus in on that particular conversation, screening out all other sounds from your brain while you follow what is being said.
Names have that power for people, especially your first name. They have such a strong psychological pull that first responders in crisis situations (such as paramedics and firemen) are trained to find out the name of a person who appears to be wavering on the brink of unconsciousness so that they can use it when speaking to the injured person in order to see if there is any response. If there is even a flicker of consciousness, a person hearing their name (even spoken by an unfamiliar voice) will try to turn their head, or at least their eyes, in the direction of whoever is speaking their given name.
Does a dog’s name have the same power to attract and focus the animal’s attention? Dog trainers and canine behaviorists are divided on this issue. When I was first learning the basics of dog training I was always instructed to begin each command with the dog’s name. Therefore, the correct grammar when addressing a dog would be “Lassie come,” “Lassie sit,” or “Lassie down.” The rationale was that saying the dog’s name caught its attention and informed it that the next sound that came from your mouth was directed toward him. In beginners’ dog classes, especially if the room is noisy and there is a lot of activity, you can often observe the effects of not following that grammatical principle. When the novice trainer says “Down Lassie” instead of “Lassie down,” the dog often looks at the trainer’s face in confusion. You get the impression that the command (in this instance “down”) has gone unnoticed by the dog, but when it hears its name it catches the dog’s attention, and now he is looking at the human’s face. He is not responding to the “down” command, however: What seems to be running through the dog’s mind is something like, “Okay, you have my full focused attention. So what is it that you want me to do?”
However, many contemporary dog trainers would disagree. Their argument is that there is nothing special about a dog’s name. If the dog is already focused on you, then, they say, there is no need to use the name: Simply giving the command should suffice. They agree that saying a dog’s name will often capture the dog’s attention, but they disagree that there is something special about the name itself. They believe that the name is simply a bit of sound which alerts the dog to the fact that their trainer is uttering something. The importance of the spoken name is just that it is in the trainer’s familiar voice and that means it’s a sound that demands attention. According to this principle, any arbitrary sound preceding the command, even if it is meaningless and has no relationship to the dog’s name, would work just as well, as long as the utterance was produced in the trainer’s familiar voice. Thus you might as well say “Refrigerator come” or “Refrigerator down.”
Further, these trainers suggest that a dog’s name, spoken by a completely unfamiliar voice, should have little or no effect in capturing the dog’s attention.
A team of researchers led by Amritha Mallikarjun of the University of Maryland-College Park decided to test whether there really is an attention-getting power in a dog’s name, much as there is in a human’s name. They chose canine test subjects who averaged a bit over four years of age and had, therefore, heard their name continuously for a substantial amount of time.
To create the target stimulus, prior to the test visit, each dog owner was asked the name or nickname that their dog was most commonly called by. This name was then recorded, and repeated 15 times, by a female native English speaker from Eastern Pennsylvania. The idea was that the dog would hear either its own name or the name of another dog in the study spoken by the same unfamiliar female voice. In addition, as a background distractor, the researchers mimicked the sounds of a noisy party by having nine different women recording passages read from nine different text sources, all of which could be mixed together to form a backdrop drone of human voices.
The test situation consisted of a small booth in which the dog and its owner sat. On either side, there was a speaker through which the various sounds could be played. The notion was simple: If the dog’s attention was caught by a particular sound it was presumed to be highly likely that the dog would turn its head in the direction of that sound. A video camera mounted in the booth monitored the dog’s responses, and the videos were scored to determine how long the dog paid attention to a particular sound stream played on either of the speakers.
The dogs were presented with sound streams containing either their own name or the name of another dog repeated over a 22-second period. This was repeated for several blocks of trials. Contrary to the expectations of some trainers, even though the voice saying their name was completely unfamiliar, the dogs paid more attention to their own name sounds than to the sound of an unfamiliar name. Furthermore, even when the sounds of the dogs’ names were superimposed on a medium-level distractor stream of conversational sounds, the dogs would focus more on the speaker voicing their own name. In a follow-up experiment, the researchers made the sound level of the dog’s name and the sound level of the distracting background conversations the same, and even under those difficult conditions, the sound of the dog’s name had a strong enough psychological pull to cause the animal to focus most of its attention on the speaker producing it.
The results seem quite clear: A dog’s name has psychological power. It attracts the dog’s attention even when the name is spoken by a voice unfamiliar to the animal, and even when their name is competing with an environment filled with other human voices saying a variety of irrelevant things. This seems to suggest that the practice of preceding a command with a dog’s name is, in fact, a sensible and effective way of capturing the dog’s attention, especially in a noisy environment. The investigators conclude:
“Our study shows that generally, dogs will behaviorally respond to their name even if a sound source is not immediately clear. This has practical implications for working dogs, like search-and-rescue dogs that may need to take commands from someone other than their handler in emergency situations, and may need to do so at a distance, when the speaker is out of view….even in the context of multitalker background babble.”
Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission
Those who own dogs are also happier than those who don’t, showing that dogs really do bring great joy to their owners’ lives. With over half of pet owners falling in love with their dogs in just 30 minutes, it’s no surprise that those with dogs are happier than those without pets.
Why are dog owners happier?
The study concluded that:
• Dog owners are more likely to form friendships with people in their neighbourhoods, especially when they’re out walking their pets.
• Dog owners are more likely to engage in outdoor physical activity.
• Dog owners tended to be more agreeable, more extroverted and less neuroticthan cat owners
• Dog owners are more likely to seek comfort from their pets in times of stress.
• 93% are also more likely to call their dog a member of the family, compared to just 83% of cat owners
• It also shows that a greater bond with their dog means they have a greater sense of well-being.
Elsewhere, a 2013 study showed that dog owners are also far more likely to engage in outdoor activities than those who own cats.
Dogs not only bring great happiness to their owners, but also help them to keep an active lifestyle. It’s just another reason to adopt a pup of your own today.
Radley London’s new collection is a dog-lover’s dream
For people who experience the world intensely, adding the responsibility of a dog into the mix can be tough. However, studies show pets—especially canines—can actually reduce stress and lower blood pressure, sometimes simply by gazing into a person’s eyes. Dogs have even been known to ease homesickness! The key? Picking the right breed. Here’s a list of the ten best dogs for highly sensitive people.
Let’s start small, with the Chihuahua. These tiny (most never weigh more than six pounds) pups pack in a ton of personality. Shedding is minimal, and firm training early solidifies good habits. Like most dogs, Chihuahuas need daily activity to stay fit and happy, but unlike larger breeds, indoor playtime suffices (translation: no crazy dog parks). They live 14 to 16 years and will enjoy most of that time snuggling on laps.
More commonly referred to as Yorkies, these dogs are super affectionate, energetic and friendly. They are also hypoallergenic, which is a plus whether you let their coats grow floor-length or not (specialty grooming is a must if a Yorkie’s coat is long, so keeping it trimmed is a less daunting choice). Short, daily walks are enough to keep these pups happy and they can live up to 15 years.
CAVALIER KING CHARLES SPANIEL
The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a gentle breed. This dog is incredibly adaptive to its owner’s lifestyle (meaning they’re cool with going out or staying in, depending on what you feel like doing). They love nothing more than pleasing their human and really only require daily walks to stay active. Side note: Going for walks is known to relieve stress, so any dog that requires leisurely strolls is a smart investment.
Medium-sized dogs attentive to their humans, Shiba Inus weigh anywhere from 17 to 23 pounds and are the most popular choices for canine companionship in Japan. Yes, they need a lot of exercise, but once they’ve had time to run around a bit, they know how and when to relax at home. They also love lavishing their humans with attention, though they can be a bit reserved with strangers. So, perfect for introverts!
This dog is a stellar choice for very low-key people or anyone who lives alone. Basset hounds are loyal to the bone and very patient. Walks are nice, but then they are content to sleep and snuggle until the cows come home. If you’re someone who needs a little more space, these dogs are ideal because they show love without being smothering.
As anyone who’s ever heard of Lassie knows, Collies are dedicated family dogs who excel when surrounded by loving people. They can live up to 14 years, too. During that time, these graceful pups ideally will have a yard to run in, though regular walks and visits to a dog park feel just as good.
OLD ENGLISH SHEEPDOG
Talk about a mellow dog! Old English sheepdogs are fluffy house dogs with an adaptable nature. They deal well with children (patient and gentle) and adults (smart and obedient). After a waltz around the block, they’re ready to snuggle up inside for a nap or a grooming sesh (brushing their coat is a must).
Possibly the most sensitive of all breeds, greyhounds are noble, quiet creatures who prefer calm people and zen environments. They are independent dogs, so they don’t need too much attention, but they are also very loving and provide a lot of comfort to their owners. Pro tip: Many rescue greyhounds are former racing dogs who have spent their lives in crates between races and seek mutual companionship.
Golden retrievers are literally rays of sunshine in dog form. These friendly dogs love life and are often top choices for seeing-eye-dog and therapy work. To strengthen the bond between human and dog, owners should go through obedience training with their goldens. This builds trust and establishes routine, two things that can ease anxiety in humans.
Now, the biggest dog on our list. Newfoundlands are 120 pounds of pure devotion and even-tempered friendship. They are super sweet, highly trainable and rarely aggressive. Sensitive owners who enjoy hiking and swimming will find a perfect companion in Newfoundlands. These gentle giants have a lot of love to give. Remember Nana in Peter Pan? Newfie.
(Here’s one thing to remember about large canines: They don’t live as long as smaller pups. The life expectancy of a Newfoundland is nine to ten years, which is still a good chunk, but know thyself when picking a dog and veer smaller for longer life expectancy.)
Calling a dog “man’s best friend” hardly seems to cover the relationship between dogs and people. They are loyal, kind, and offer nearly unconditional love, endless joy and enthusiasm, and occasionally too much affection. They are always happy to see you, never tire of your presence, and never mind if you make a fool of yourself. They are some of the greatest creatures on this planet, truly wonderful companions who feel like members of the family, and the only animals that specifically evolved to be friends with humans.
And it seems pretty clear that they love us back. While every pet owner has personal anecdotes, and the internet offers plenty of videos of dogs reuniting with owners, and as author Kinky Friedman said, “Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.” There’s plenty of science to back it up, too. Researchers gave pups fMRI scansthis link opens in a new tab which look at what changes in the activity of regions of the brain when certain events occur. They then offered the dogs treats (they were all very good dogs, apparently) and then had the owners praise the pups. They found that the dogs’ brains showed a similar response to praise from their owners as to being offered food. Some dogs, praise from their owners is even more effective an incentive than food. So, dogs love their human companions and when that love is gone, it can be incredibly hard to move past. It goes both ways, too: Just looking at dogs can make people smilethis link opens in a new tab. It’s no wonder dog owners miss them so much when they’re gone. As many of us know, unfortunately, humans tend to outlive dogs, so as A Dog’s Purpose author, W. Bruce Cameron, wrote, “When you adopt a dog, you have a lot of very good days and one very bad day.”
When a beloved pup passes away, the loss can feel unbearable. In fact, sometimes that loss can feel as bad—or even worse—than the loss of a human friend or relative. That’s not just anecdotal, either: Research has confirmedthis link opens in a new tab that for most people, the loss of a dog is comparable to the loss of a human loved one, in almost every way. According to Scientific Americanthis link opens in a new tab, “symptoms of acute grief after the loss of a pet can last from one to two months, with symptoms of grief persisting up to a full year (on average).
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Why do humans feel such a deep loss for their pups? Because dogs are so much more than pets. As psychologist Julie Axelrod writes in a blog postthis link opens in a new tab the loss of a dog is so painful because people are losing a little life that we were responsible for as well as a source of unconditional love and companionship. There’s a reason that most emotional support animals are dogs.
Axelrod also notes that for many people, dogs serve as a primary companion who provides security and comfort. Researchthis link opens in a new tab has shown that dogs help people get out of their homes, serve as catalysts for “cohesiveness and trust; the reciprocal exchange of favors between neighbors; and increased participation in civic events and social issues.” They also are scientifically proven to serve as a “social lubricantthis link opens in a new tab” who promote interaction and conversation between strangers. Losing a dog, means losing that motivation to leave the house for a walk in the park, losing the reason to chat with a stranger on a street, and losing that easy conversation starter, too.
Also, losing a dog usually means losing someone who totally gets you. Or gets you enough that they don’t mind whatever it is you’re doing and can comfort you when you need it. Research shows that dogs recognize people and can learn to interpret human emotional states from their facial expression alonethis link opens in a new tab. Scientific studies also indicate that dogs can understand human intentions, try to help their ownersthis link opens in a new tab and learn to avoid peoplethis link opens in a new tab who don’t cooperate treat their owners well or help them in their time of need. Basically, when you lose your dog, you lose your back up, too.
While losing a pet is painful and overwhelming, unfortunately, it can also be a very lonely process, as many people don’t understand the feeling of loss and don’t recognize that the grieving process for a pet can be as long as that for a human. Because of that, the community support typically associated with death is absent when a pet dies. Typically, friends aren’t dropping off hot dishes or sending bereavement cards. To make matters worse, grieving owners may feel embarrassed over the extent of their own heartbreak and feel ashamed to reach out to friends for comfort.
If you have lost a pet, take time to grieve. Find a support group locally or check out these websites: the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavementthis link opens in a new tab; and the Pet Loss Grief Supportthis link opens in a new tab website. If a friend has lost a pet, take the loss seriously. Consider sending a sympathy card or bringing them some food as you would for someone who has lost a human friend or family member—even if you don’t fully understand their grief. This is about your friend’s loss, not your feelings about pets, after all. While there’s no easy way to help alleviate someone else’s overwhelming grief, at least we can make every effort not to make things worse by telling someone it was “only a dog.” As any pet owner will tell you, there’s no such thing.
We can thank our dogs for many things – laughs, companionship and muddy paw prints on the carpet included. But do you ever stop and think about the more long-term impacts that owning a dog can have on your physical and mental health?
This National Love Your Pet Day (20th February), we are thanking our pets for the health benefits they bring to our lives, from exercise to increasing confidence.
8 mental and physical health benefits of owning a dog
1. You might visit the doctor less
An Australian survey found that dog owners make fewer visits to the GP in a year and are less likely to be on medication for heart problems or sleep issues.
2. You could be less anxious
Veterinarian Dr Jo Gale, Mars Petcare Scientific Advisor, says: “Several studies have found that interacting with pet dogs or therapy dogs is associated with reductions in the stress hormone cortisol and reductions in self-reported anxiety.”
2. You could have lower risk of cardiovascular disease
A nationwide 2017 study in Sweden found that owning a dog could be beneficial in reducing the risk of the owner developing cardiovascular disease, thanks to having increased motivation to exercise and a non-human social support network. Interestingly, the study found that owning hunting breeds lowered the risk the most.
3. You are more sociable
An American study, which looked at three factors of being sociable – getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks – found that dog owners are five times more likely to know people in their community. They found that dogs, acting as companions, helped owners be more sociable on every level, from one-off interactions to the development of deep friendships.
4. You might live longer
In the Waltham Pocket Book of Human-Animal Interactions there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that the physical benefits of having a dog can lead to a longer, healthier life. Section 8 reads: “The many health benefits of regular physical activity are well documented, and include lower rates of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, depression and certain types of cancer.”
5. You have higher self-esteem
A 2017 study by the University of Liverpool found that growing up with a dog can increase self-esteem in children. It also found young people with pets to be less lonely and have enhanced social skills. Lead author, Rebecca Purewal, states: “Critical ages for the impact of pet ownership on self-esteem, appear to be greatest for children under 6, and preadolescents and adolescents over 10.”
6. You exercise more
A 2019 study by Lintbells found the average dog owner walks 870 miles every 12 months with their pets. That equates to just four miles less than the distance between John o’Groats in Scotland and Land’s End in Cornwall. Just over half of the 2,000 British adults surveyed owned a dog, and they walk, on average, more than 21 miles a week – 17 of which are with their pet. That’s around seven miles more than non dog owners who only clock up 14 miles a week.
7. Children miss less school
Veterinarian Dr Jo Gale says: “Having pets in the home has been linked to enhanced immune function in children, as evidenced by better school attendance rates due to fewer illness-related absences. The effect was particularly strong for younger children (five to eight-years-old) and, in some cases amounted to nearly three extra weeks of school attendance for children with pets.”
8. You are less likely to be lonely
Studies have shown that, out of any other pet, dogs have the strongest connection to loneliness, mainly because they are on show a lot more. Over 80% 0f people who took part in Mars Petcare’s 2018 research said that, just one month after getting a dog, they felt a lot less lonely.
By Susanna Newsonen
It’s morning. The alarm goes off. You open your eyes and you’re met with another pair of them as well as a wet nose. You can tell from the way his head is swaying that he’s wagging his tail. You smile and he takes that as a note of permission to start licking your face. You giggle, give him a cuddle and jump out of bed.
You know getting up in the morning is a lot easier and more fun when you’ve got a dog who’s so excited to see you open your eyes. He’s even more excited as you get dressed to go out and grab the leash by the door. By now he’s jumping up and down and making weird, excited maneuvers chasing his own tail. It’s as if going for a morning walk is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to him. You can’t help but smile.
This is the thing with dogs. They make your life better. They make you smile more. They force you to move. They encourage you to be more mindful of the present. They make you feel loved. Perhaps that’s why it’s no surprise that science has shown dogs improve your physical, mental and emotional health. Here’s exactly how:
1. Dogs improve your mood.
Study after study has shown that owning a pet can help you to maintain a more positive, optimistic perspective on life and what you’re faced with. Better yet, they can even lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety. There are many reasons why this might be the case but author and animal expert Karen Winegar sums it up beautifully: “The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can.”
2. Dogs make you feel loved.
Spending time with dogs, and even more so petting them and cuddling them, increases your levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin, known as the “lovehormone,” is a neurotransmitter that calms your nervous system down, relaxing you, whilst also increasing your trust.
3. Dogs lower your stress.
Petting dogs not only ups your oxytocin but also lowers your cortisol, the stress hormone. In line with this, studies at the University of New York found that people experienced lower levels of stress when conducting a stressfulassignment when they had a pet with them. Studies in workplaces have also shown that taking dogs to work lowers your stress, improves your recovery after challenges and even increases positive social interactions.
4. Dogs help you to be social.
If you’re shy, an introvert or simply not that confident in social situations, your dog can help you with this. As your dog greets another dog, it’s natural to exchange a few words with the dog’s owner. It’s easier to chat because you already have one common ground (i.e. dogs) and having these simple interactions can help up your confidence.
5. Dogs keep you healthy and fit.
If you own a dog and you love them, you take them out for walks. You play with them. You keep them entertained. That means you’re active throughout your day which naturally boosts your physical health whilst also, as an added bonus, improves your mood. In line with this, clinical studies have shown that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, both reducing the risk of heart-related illnesses.
These are only a few of the many ways that dogs improve the quality of your life. If you’ve got a dog, make sure you give them an extra cuddle today and tell them how grateful you are for them. Don’t worry about whether they will understand or not. They will feel it — and so will you.