National Dog Day and your Health

the Joy of the hunt-minToday, August 26th, 2019 is National dog Day. So imagine my delight at finding this story in Newsweek magazine that says, according to a recent study published by the Mayo Clinic, owning a dog could boost our heart health.

“Dog owners,” according to the study, “were more likely to exercise, have an ideal diet and blood glucose levels than those who didn’t.”

These findings are hardly surprising to a dog lover, but they do cause me to reflect on my recent book, The View from a Wagon and its five lessons for living life.

To say I love dogs would be an understatement. Dogs have been a part of my life since the day I was born. My childhood dogs were yard dogs that never came in the house, but in those days, children seldom went in the house either, except to eat or sleep. Dogs ran with us—or we ran with them. In my adult life, my wife and I have always shared our home with one or two dogs as part of the family, and I still grieve for those that have passed.

So, when I saw this study, I thought about my time on the mule wagon and the lessons I learned from watching the dogs—the pointers that race around looking for birds and the retriever that sits on my lap when she is not retrieving. Their joy for life and their ability to live in the moment is infectious and provides a lesson for humans. Perhaps we should spend less time worrying about the past and fearing the future. Somehow, we need to figure out how to just live in the present or, put another way, to seize the day.

We also need to consider how dogs might teach us to show kindness to the people around us. Humans, like dogs, are social creatures by nature. We live in packs that rely on visual cues and olfactory scents to keep order. Is the tail up like a flag or tucked down between the back legs? Are the teeth bared, or is he trying to lick you in the face?

When the wagon arrives in the morning to load guests and guns, there are handshakes all around as we introduce ourselves with smiles and laughter. Who will be hunting together? Will they be on wagon number one or wagon number two? Who wants to ride a horse and who wants to sit in the wagon? How have you been? Good to see you again. We humans do love our rituals. If we were dogs, we’d be wagging our tails and smelling each other’s butts.

So, dogs can show us how to live in the moment and be kind to the people around us, but my book has three more lessons that dogs can help us with. Lesson one, for example, suggests that we slow down our busy lives. As any dog owner knows, when you are walking your dog, you can’t help but “slow down and smell the… fire hydrant”. If you are in a hurry, walking a dog can be an agonizing process.

Dogs can also help us disconnect from the distractions of our online, web-connected world. It is challenging to read the text on your smart phone with your dog dragging you around.

And finally, dogs help us appreciate nature. After all, what could be more natural than slipping your hand inside a plastic bag and reaching down to pick up a pile of fresh, warm, dog poop. Ah yes—that brings us back to slowing down to smell the… you know what.

The article also noted previous studies that said owning dogs might be linked to “better mental health and feeling less lonely, which are both thought to decrease the risk of heart attacks.”

Walking a dog is, I believe, far better than just walking—and don’t get me started on the walking we do inside a gym on a treadmill with our headphones on. So, grab that leash and take your dog for a walk. It will not only make for one happy dog, it will be good for your heart, good for your mental health, and good for your soul.

Happy dog Day!

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