All posts by dr. vogelsang

The Amazing, Intuitive Empathy of Dogs

When I was 12 years old, fully in the throes of junior high angst, I had a difficult time telling others about painful events. Being called hurtful names by other kids. The time my backpack was stolen and thrown over a fence. About the bullies who teased me. I didn’t want to tell my parents because I didn’t think they would be able to change anything, and I worried that it would end up just making them sad. So … I told my dog.

At the time, I thought I was kind of a weirdo for confiding in my dog. But as I grew older and devoted my life to working with animals and people, I found to my delight that dogs are some of the world’s best counselors. They give veterans with PTSD the strength to venture outside. They help shy children work on their speaking skills. They sit in courtrooms while victims testify about terrifying events. They lie quietly next to people in hospitals who simply need a soft head to pat. They are sometimes as effective as medications in controlling anxiety.

I’ve often heard it said that dogs can sense when someone they love needs extra support, but until I witnessed it firsthand, I had no idea just how powerful that connection could be. When my mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year and came to live with us, I was beyond petrified, as was the entire family. It was so hard to simply sit there and be present without bursting into tears, which would only upset Mom more.

My dog, on the other hand, had no hesitation about inserting himself in the middle of it all. Brody became an ever-present companion by her side, a steady escort that helped to keep her upright when her balance was off, a head on her lap while she tearfully signed her Hospice admission papers, and a gentle snorer at her side every night. When she peacefully passed with my father by her side, Brody was also there to see her off.

How can I possibly explain what burden he bore during that time? He was not just there for my Mom but also for me, the kids and especially my dad. With my mother gone, Brody immediately transferred his watchful attention to him in a way that he never had before. Together, they went on long thoughtful walks during that period. There is no possible explanation other than the fact that Brody knew exactly what we needed from him.

Dogs see us at our worst and, unlike many people in our lives, are unafraid to be right there in the thick of things without judgment or discomfort. They are such a gift to us! I feel so fortunate to be able to give back and help their lives be long and wonderful in return.

Have you ever had a dog who went above and beyond the call of duty in a time of pain or need?

Tell us your remarkable story of canine comforting in the comments section below. And be sure to share this post with your friends on Twitter and Facebook.

Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned From My Puppy

I never cease to be surprised at how much I learn from my dogs. Even after living and working with them for years, there’s always something new to learn about them or yourself. The first few months of my dog Brody’s life as a puppy were some of the most joyous weeks of my life. Even at two months of age, he seemed to have it all figured out. Maybe it’s a dog thing.

So, in no particular order, here are all the life lessons I learned from my puppy Brody!

A good solid wink is an essential people skill to master.

If you’re breaking the rules, better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Nap often and with great gusto.

When in doubt, just try looking chagrined.

Truly, no problem is insurmountable.

Did I mention it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission? Especially when it’s ice cream.

You’re never too young - or too old - to be a hero!

No matter your age, be sure to celebrate all of life’s milestones!

What lessons has your dog taught you? Please share your story in the comments section below!

 

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

The Many Health Benefits of Living with Dogs

While all dog lovers intuitively know we are happier and healthier with a dog or two (or three) in our lives, scientists around the world have been working to prove that this isn’t just a feeling but a fact. Dogs really do make us healthier!

  1. Fewer allergies
    That old wives tale that being around animals is more likely to make you sick is just that … a misconception. In fact, children raised around animals are 33% less likely to have allergies to those animals than those who are raised in a more sterile environment. Just like the “hygiene hypothesis” surmising that early exposure to germs makes us better at fighting them, being around allergens while our bodies are still growing helps the body recognize these particles as being A-OK.
  2. Trimmer waist
    Pet parents are less likely to suffer from obesity compared to the general population, particularly if you are the person in the household responsible for walking the dog. It makes sense: maybe you can talk yourself out of an early a.m. stroll, but it’s harder to justify skipping the walk when your dog is giving you those big, excited eyes!

  3. Lower rates of eczema
    Eczema, a painful and itchy skin condition, is a common plague in children and thought to have an allergic component. Children raised with dogs have demonstrably lower levels of eczema compared to the pet-less, which is great news for those of us who love dogs AND kids, and couldn’t imagine going without either!
  4. Cancer detection
    A dog’s sense of smell is somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times more sensitive than our own. Think about that the next time your spray perfume in their presence! One of the unintended benefits of this is that many dogs seem to pick up on very subtle olfactory indicators of disease. Dogs have shown repeatable, reliable skill in finding lung, bladder, breast, colon, and ovarian cancers in people … some of whom passed more commonly accepted screening tests! If your dog shows a sudden and insatiable interest in a certain body part, don’t ignore it … your pup may be trying to save your life!
  5. Noticing low blood sugar
    More than one out of every three dogs living with diabetics can detect low blood sugar, according to researchers. With no prior training, some of these dogs have on their own alerted their owners to something being off, providing people a critical lead time in intervening before their blood sugar levels lead to serious symptoms.

How Dogs and People Evolved Together

People live with and love many kinds of animals, but there’s just something special about our relationship with our dogs. We all get the sense that they need us the same way that we need them. Humans and canines, bonded together by some strange and immutable force. It’s almost as if we evolved for each other!

And there’s evidence to support that actually, we did. Here are some fascinating facts that scientists have discovered about the ancient, intertwined bond between humankind and canines…

1. Dogs first split off the wolf genome about 32,000 years ago.
Recently, scientists collected DNA from gray wolves as well as various dog breeds from across the globe. By comparing these samples against the DNA taken from an ancient dog skull uncovered in a Siberian mountain range, Chinese researchers determined that modern dogs split off from the wolf genome approximately 32,000 years ago … the earliest evidence ever discovered!

2. Dogs may have helped us beat Neanderthals in the evolution game.
While Neanderthals existed nearly 250,000 years ago, we Homo sapiens are a little newer on the scene: about 40,000 years ago or so. While no one is entirely sure why they became extinct whereas we flourished, some anthropologists surmise that domesticating dogs played a key role in allowing us to hunt more efficiently and therefore survive.

3. Their affable personality ensured their survival.
While wolves are naturally reserved and skittish around humans, dogs easily accept people as fellow pack members. From an evolutionary standpoint, the wolves who were comfortable enough approaching humans to beg off scraps possibly marked the first step in the domestication process. Which just goes to prove that dogs can’t help their genial nature!

4. Their body chemistry adapted closer to what we eat.
Right around the same time that human society moved from a hunting-based to a farming-based lifestyle, we started to further develop our aptitude for digesting starches. So did dogs. A 2013 study from the journal Nature found ten genes responsible for starch digestion that are not present in the carnivorous wolf species. Like us, dogs are true omnivores.

5. Modern dogs are more alike than they are different.
It’s hard to believe that hulking Great Danes and dainty teacup poodles are representatives of the same species, but they are! Their extensive physical variations are the result of selective breeding programs, which have only really been in vogue for less than 200 years. Without humans manipulating the breeding process, the huge disparities we know today would not exist.

A Family Guide to Coping With Pet Loss

As a veterinarian, a person regularly tasked with the sacred duty of helping beloved family members pass over the Rainbow Bridge, you might think that I had lots of training in vet school about how to help people during such a challenging time. To be honest, I didn’t. Almost none, in fact, which is a shame.

Oftentimes, the death of a pet is the first major loss experienced by a person, especially children. We know now that for many people, the pain and grief of losing a pet is as profound as the death of a person, yet people are often expected to carry on the next day as if nothing has happened. Openly discussing grief makes others uncomfortable, mostly because they don’t know what to say. More...

Canine Communication & Kid Safety

Zach & Brody

The first time he came to our house, my son’s friend Joey announced he hated dogs.

Given that we have a dog - and a cute one at that, a goofy Golden who loves any and all people - this is a bit of a problem. Joey was nonetheless fearful, so I had my dog in the yard for a bit. When I asked Joey why he hates dogs, he said it was because every dog he had ever met, starting with his own min pin when he was younger, bit him. More...