My wife and I recently adopted a puppy who is now 10 weeks old. She is teething on everything—especially my hands and arms, which are obviously far more fascinating than than all the teething toys, chew sticks, fluffy squeak toys and assorted other puppy gadgets and playthings. Since her teeth are very sharp, I have puncture wounds and bruises up and down my arms.
Housebreaking a puppy is not for the faint of heart. Taking her outside every 25 minutes (I’m not exaggerating) is demanding. We don’t have 3am feedings like with a human baby, but we do have 3am potty calls that feel like it’s about the same. And when she wakes up for good at 4:30am, she wakes me up for the day as well. But playing, holding, nurturing and cuddling a puppy is hard to beat. To parent a puppy offers a number of obvious benefits. (I refuse to be called a dog owner. I’m her daddy, plain and simple.) Since our grown children are gone from our home, and our 3-year-old grandson lives out of state, it’s our mature dog and our puppy that complete our family. They are the surrogate children we live with now, and our family would be incomplete without them. (I am not against cats or other pets. I am simply smitten by dogs, and especially puppies.)
Dogs give people friendship and companionship, and often greater closeness, attachment and camaraderie than many of our closest friends and family. That friendship releases oxytocin, a natural hormone-like chemical our bodies produce. Just the act of petting a dog releases oxytocin, which lowers our blood pressure, decreases our heart rate and reduces our level of stress. Oxytocin is associated with touch, affection, bonding and attachment, and is known as the “cuddle chemical.” It’s what helps a mother and a baby bond. Dogs produce it also, so the chemical is being released by both dog and human. This is likely why dogs have earned the nickname “man’s best friend.” Warm, affectionate interactions help you feel close with your dog and help your dog feel close to you.
After I’ve been gone for awhile, my puppy is always happy to see me. In fact, she acts like me coming home is the highlight of her day—every day. Exactly which human in your life consistently does that? And need I say that dogs (especially puppies) are fun? They’re loaded with energy, they keep us active, force us to go outside and are great at playing games.
Dogs are sensitive to our emotions, our facial expressions, our words and our body language, which is why we often talk to our dogs. It gives them pleasure to please us, and they don’t judge or criticize us. People are less likely to be depressed if they are bonded with a dog, and they are more easily brought out of depression if they play and cuddle with a dog. Dogs have a similar limbic system in their brain as we do. It’s our limbic system that allows us to feel emotions, which is exactly why dogs demonstrate emotional sensitivity, responsiveness, kindness and fair play. And if you live alone, having a dog gives you the same emotional/spiritual benefit as a human friend does. It protects us from loneliness because we don’t feel so alone, especially as we grow older.
And did I mention that my puppy makes me smile and feel happy?