Man’s Best Friend

By Allison Gamble

Who doesn’t picture the perfect picket fence house with a puppy in the front yard? Animals are a huge part of most cultures, and dogs are one of the most popular pets in America, for Animals are integrated in the general population of the world with dogs and cats as the most popular and well-known animals in America. It doesn’t take a psychology degree to know the product of much of the research into the relationship between people and their pets: pets help with human emotional well-being. It has become common knowledge that animals are beneficial to mental health, whether they are certified therapy cats in nursing homes or service dogs attending to patients in hospitals. But the answer still begs to be answered: why is a dog man’s best friend?

Whether they are employed as service dogs or life long companions, dogs are known for their service and loyalty through a long history and strong connections to our ancestors. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years. Their story with man starts over 15,000 years ago. Originally, the wild dogs lived with man for food and warmth. That eventually evolved into friendship with man.

Where did that loyalty come from? The answer is “coevolution.” Coevolution is when two or more species affect each other’s evolution. It is believed that 90% of all domesticated dogs in today’s world originated from three early female wolves. When these canines had litters, the litters were raised with humans, by canines. That resulted in the first domesticated dog.

With such an intimate history, it is only natural to seek to study and understand that connection. Alicia Stribling, a psychology student at Clemson University, did research on regular interaction with pets and how it affects general happiness. Pets provide unconditional love and function as a friend and companion. They help humans gain trust, independence, and empathy towards other people.

As Alicia Stribling put it, pets play a major part in teaching humans emotions and empathy towards others. Ever watch a kid cry after scraping his knee? His beloved family dog rushes to his side, allowing himself to be hugged. The dog allows the child to hold him until he’s no longer crying. That teaches the kid to hold out a hand to others who have fallen. Ever watch a dog get swatted on the behind for getting into the trash? That dog may sulk away, only to come back immediately with tail wagging, the owner immediately forgiven. That teaches people (or reminds them) to forgive others and not to hold grudges.

There is no question about it. Animals have a positive impact on humans’ brains and emotions. That is why they are integrated in humans’ lives. The bounding black lab or the gentle Great Dane teaches people to appreciate life. Who can ignore the happiness that radiates from a border collie? All breeds continue to teach us one important lesson: life is good.