Dogs and Humans
Article: History & Evolution » Dogs and Humans
Wolves, and their dog descendants, would have derived significant benefits from living in human camps—more safety, more reliable food, lesser caloric needs, and more chance to breed. They would have benefited from humans’ upright gait that gives them larger range over which to see potential predators and prey, as well as color vision that, at least by day, gives humans better visual discrimination. Camp dogs would also have benefited from human tool use, as in bringing down larger prey and controlling fire for a range of purposes.
Humans would also have derived enormous benefit from the dogs associated with their camps. For instance, dogs would have improved sanitation by cleaning up food scraps. Dogs may have provided warmth, as referred to in the Australian Aboriginal expression “three dog night” (an exceptionally cold night), and they would have alerted the camp to the presence of predators or strangers, using their acute hearing to provide an early warning. Anthropologists believe the most significant benefit would have been the use of dogs’ sensitive sense of smell to assist with the hunt. The relationship between the presence of a dog and success in the hunt is often mentioned as a primary reason for the domestication of the wolf, and a 2004 study of hunter groups with and without a dog gives quantitative support to the hypothesis that the benefits of cooperative hunting was an important factor in wolf domestication.
The cohabitation of dogs and humans would have greatly improved the chances of survival for early human groups, and the domestication of dogs may have been one of the key forces that led to human success.
“The most widespread form of inter-species bonding occurs between dogs and humans” and the keeping of dogs as companions, particularly by elites, has a long history. However, pet dog populations grew significantly after World War II as suburbanization increased. In the 1950s and 1960s, dogs were kept outside more often than they tend to be today  (using the expression “in the doghouse” to describe exclusion from the group signifies the distance between the doghouse and the home) and were still primarily functional, acting as a guard, children’s playmate, or walking companion. Dogs can also be ridden by children as small horses. Among the best breeds for riding are the St. Bernard, the Newfoundland, the Landseer, and the Great Pyrenees. From the 1980s, there have been changes in the role of the pet dog, such as the increased role of dogs in the emotional support of their owners. People and dogs have become increasingly integrated and implicated in each other’s lives, to the point where pet dogs actively shape the way a family and home are experienced.
There have been two major trends in the changing status of pet dogs. The first has been the ‘commodification’ of the dog, shaping it to conform to human expectations of personality and behaviour. The second has been the broadening of the concept of the family and the home to include dogs-as-dogs within everyday routines and practices.
There are a vast range of commodity forms available to transform a pet dog into an ideal companion. The list of goods, services and places available is enormous: from dog perfumes, couture, furniture and housing, to dog groomers, therapists, trainers and care-takers, dog cafes, spas, parks and beaches, and dog hotels, airlines and cemeteries. While dog training as an organized activity can be traced back to the 18th century, in the last decades of the 20th century it became a high profile issue as many normal dog behaviors such as barking, jumping up, digging, rolling in dung, fighting, and urine marking became increasingly incompatible with the new role of a pet dog. Dog training books, classes and television programs proliferated as the process of commodifying the pet dog continued.
An Australian Cattle Dog in reindeer antlers sits on Santa’s lap
The majority of contemporary dog owners describe their dog as part of the family, although some ambivalence about the relationship is evident in the popular reconceptualisation of the dog-human family as a pack. A dominance model of dog-human relationships has been promoted by some dog trainers, such as on the television program Dog Whisperer. However it has been disputed that “trying to achieve status” is characteristic of dog–human interactions. Pet dogs play an active role in family life; for example, a study of conversations in dog-human families showed how family members use the dog as a resource, talking to the dog, or talking through the dog, to mediate their interactions with each other. Another study of dogs’ roles in families showed many dogs have set tasks or routines undertaken as family members, the most common of which was helping with the washing-up by licking the plates in the dishwasher, and bringing in the newspaper from the lawn. Increasingly, human family members are engaging in activities centred on the perceived needs and interests of the dog, or in which the dog is an integral partner, such as Dog Dancing and Doga.
According to the statistics published by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in the National Pet Owner Survey in 2009–2010, it is estimated there are 77.5 million dog owners in the United States. The same survey shows nearly 40% of American households own at least one dog, of which 67% own just one dog, 25% two dogs and nearly 9% more than two dogs. There does not seem to be any gender preference among dogs as pets, as the statistical data reveal an equal number of female and male dog pets. Yet, although several programs are undergoing to promote pet adoption, only nearly a fifth of the owned dogs come from a shelter.
Dogs have lived and worked with humans in so many roles that they have earned the unique nickname, “man’s best friend”, a phrase used in other languages as well. They have been bred for herding livestock, hunting (e.g. pointers and hounds), rodent control, guarding, helping fishermen with nets, and pulling loads, in addition to their roles as companions.
Service dogs such as guide dogs, utility dogs, assistance dogs, hearing dogs, and psychological therapy dogs provide assistance to individuals with physical or mental disabilities. Some dogs owned by epileptics have been shown to alert their handler when the handler shows signs of an impending seizure, sometimes well in advance of onset, allowing the owner to seek safety, medication, or medical care.
Dogs included in human activities in terms of helping out humans are usually called working dogs. Dogs of several breeds are considered working dogs. Some working dog breeds include Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Black Russian Terrier, Boxer, Bullmastiff, Doberman Pinscher, Dogue de Bordeaux, German Pinscher, German Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, Great Swiss Mountain Dog, Komondor, Kuvasz, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Newfoundland, Portuguese Water Dog, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Samoyed, Siberian Husky, Standard Schnauzer, and Tibetan Mastiff.
Based on their size and strength, these dogs are more suitable for a wide range of jobs rather than companions for average families. Moreover, most of these dogs have a different type of personality, usually more aggressive, which makes the relationship with their trainer safer when he is a professional and knows what type of behavior to expect from such a dog. The working dogs are trained properly and accordingly to the activities they will perform. Yet, despite the size of some dogs, they are sometimes used as pets as well. In general, however, they require special training and owners might have to learn how to bond with their pets, in these cases. Some of these dogs are suitable for more than a single activity. For instance, Akita is a popular dog in the show ring, but its qualities make it a reliable animal in therapy work. The Alaskan Malamute is one of the most powerful and strong working dogs, and although some families have this type of breed as a pet, they are more likely to enjoy sledding, and performing different mountainous activities with their owners. The Anatolian Shepherd dog and the Black Russian Terrier are famous for their ability to work as guard dogs, being used to protect livestock. The Swiss Mountain dogs, Bullmastiffs and German Pinschers are suitable for carting, obedience, tracking and even therapy work.
Boxers are commonly used as service dogs for blind people because of their intelligence and alert expression. During war time, this type of dog was also used as a courier. Dobermans have proven themselves as great learners with an amazing capacity of retaining training, and as a result, they are commonly trained and used as police or war dogs. Some other types of breeds are easily trained for hunting or fighting, such as the Dogue de Bordeaux.
Sports and Shows
Owners of dogs often enter them in competitions such as breed conformation shows or sports, including racing and sledding.
In conformation shows, also referred to as breed shows, a judge familiar with the specific dog breed evaluates individual purebred dogs for conformity with their established breed type as described in the breed standard. As the breed standard only deals with the externally observable qualities of the dog (such as appearance, movement, and temperament), separately tested qualities (such as ability or health) are not part of the judging in conformation shows.
Health Risks to Humans
In the USA, cats and dogs are a factor in more than 86,000 falls each year. It has been estimated around 2% of dog-related injuries treated in UK hospitals are domestic accidents. The same study found that while dog involvement in road traffic accidents was difficult to quantify, dog-associated road accidents involving injury more commonly involved two-wheeled vehicles.
Toxocara canis (dog roundworm) eggs in dog feces can cause toxocariasis. In the United States, about 10,000 cases of Toxocara infection are reported in humans each year, and almost 14% of the US population is infected. In Great Britain, 24% of soil samples taken from public parks contained T. canis eggs. Untreated toxocariasis can cause retinal damage and decreased vision. Dog feces can also contain hookworms that cause cutaneous larva migrans in humans.
The incidence of dog bites, and especially fatal dog bites, is extremely rare in America considering the number of pet dogs in the country. Fatalities from dog bites occur in America at the rate of one per four million dogs. A Colorado study found bites in children were less severe than bites in adults. The incidence of dog bites in the US is 12.9 per 10,000 inhabitants, but for boys aged 5 to 9, the incidence rate is 60.7 per 10,000. Moreover, children have a much higher chance to be bitten in the face or neck. Sharp claws with powerful muscles behind them can lacerate flesh in a scratch that can lead to serious infections.
In the UK between 2003 and 2004, there were 5,868 dog attacks on humans, resulting in 5,770 working days lost in sick leave.
Health benefits for humans
A growing body of research indicates the companionship of a dog can enhance human physical health and psychological wellbeing. Dog and cat owners have been shown to have better mental and physical health than nonowners, making fewer visits to the doctor and being less likely to be on medication than nonowners. In one study, new pet owners reported a highly significant reduction in minor health problems during the first month following pet acquisition, and this effect was sustained in dog owners through to the end of the study. In addition, dog owners took considerably more physical exercise than cat owners and people without pets. The group without pets exhibited no statistically significant changes in health or behaviour. The results provide evidence that pet acquisition may have positive effects on human health and behaviour, and that for dog owners these effects are relatively long term. Pet ownership has also been associated with increased coronary artery disease survival, with dog owners being significantly less likely to die within one year of an acute myocardial infarction than those who did not own dogs.
The health benefits of dogs can result from contact with dogs, not just from dog ownership. For example, when in the presence of a pet dog, people show reductions in cardiovascular, behavioral, and psychological indicators of anxiety. The benefits of contact with a dog also include social support, as dogs are able to not only provide companionship and social support themselves, but also to act as facilitators of social interactions between humans. One study indicated that wheelchair users experience more positive social interactions with strangers when they are accompanied by a dog than when they are not.
The practice of using dogs and other animals as a part of therapy dates back to the late 18th century, when animals were introduced into mental institutions to help socialize patients with mental disorders. Animal-assisted intervention research has shown that animal-assisted therapy with a dog can increase a person with Alzheimer’s disease’s social behaviours, such as smiling and laughing. One study demonstrated that children with ADHD and conduct disorders who participated in an education program with dogs and other animals showed increased attendance, increased knowledge and skill objectives, and decreased antisocial and violent behavior compared to those who were not in an animal-assisted program.
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