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Wednesday, October 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask Dr. Universe: Why are dogs important to humans?

Washington State University

Dr. Universe: Why are dogs important to humans? – Stephani R., 9, Washington State

Dear Stephani,

Dogs are important to humans in all kinds of ways. The connection between the two goes back thousands of years.

A long time ago, wolves would trail along after humans on hunting trips and eat any scraps they could find. Eventually these wolves evolved into dogs that helped protect the hunters and gatherers.

Ever since then, dogs have had all kinds of jobs. They work on farms where they guard the land and also round up livestock like sheep and cows. Dogs also provide humans with company. Just petting a dog can create a real physical change in the human body.

That’s what I found out from my friend Alexa Carr, a Washington State University researcher who investigates the bonds between animals and humans.

Along with fellow scientists, she has discovered that when people pet a dog, they have fewer stress chemicals in their body – hormones called cortisol. We also know that when a person is looking into a dog’s eyes, the body also releases a kind of chemical that is linked to love and connection with another being.

Dogs can help humans navigate their world. They help guide people who have lost their sight. They assist people who have diabetes or seizures. A lot of service dogs can sense when something is wrong and alert their owners. Some of them can even open fridges and bring food to their human.

A dog can use its sensitive nose to help humans, too. At airports, some dogs sniff out luggage to make sure people aren’t bringing anything they shouldn’t on the plane. In some cases, dogs can even sniff out cancer in people.

It turns out there also are dogs on our planet that help scientists, Carr said. They sniff out animal poop to help scientists learn more about different species. We can learn a lot from the DNA we find in an animal’s poop. Some dogs sniff out orca poop that floats in the ocean to help us learn more about the whales.

Dogs are there for us when we lose someone we love and often look at us when we talk to them. They also are good at helping people, including veterans, with their mental health. Carr said there are a lot of factors that go into understanding how humans and dogs work together. We are still learning a lot about the relationship.

“People are important to dogs, too,” she said. “It is a relationship that goes both ways.”

People can give dogs ear scratches, take them to the park, feed them and walk them. Taking a dog for a walk can help a human get exercise and stay healthy.

What do dogs do to help in your life? Why are they important to you? Tell us about it sometime at dr.universe@wsu.edu.

Sincerely,

Dr. Universe

Ask Dr. Universe is a project from Washington State University. Submit a question of your own at askdruniverse.wsu.edu/ask.

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