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A dog is not just your best friend but a good therapist as well

Dogs are highly attuned to their pet parent’s emotions and health conditions. They often respond to low moods with gestures that would benefit their human

Dogs love us unconditionally. They don’t judge us. They are just happy being fed, exercised and being around their humans. Photo: PIxabay
Dogs love us unconditionally. They don’t judge us. They are just happy being fed, exercised and being around their humans. Photo: PIxabay

My pet, Khal Dogo—an Argentinian Mastiff—came home during the covid-19 pandemic. After almost a year of being stuck indoors, with our fitness levels seriously compromised, my husband and I decided to bring home a high-energy dog, who would compel us to get out and embark on long walks every day.

Khal didn’t disappoint. He went over and above. Today, he not only pesters us to take him for walks daily without fail by nudging us with his nose repeatedly until we get out of bed, but he also works as an amazing therapist and healer.

Months before Khal came into my life, I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night sweating, coughing and struggling to breathe. I was unsure what had caused this—a nightmare, pandemic-related stress, compromised fitness levels, or something else. But after Khal’s arrival into my life, about two-and-a-half years ago, these episodes stopped completely. Today, he sleeps right next to my bed, waking up only to change his position. But sometimes, just out of the blue, he licks my face until I wake up. After petting him once or twice, he goes back to sleep again. 

I feel that he senses some change in my breathing pattern, and wakes me up before I become breathless. “Dogs are highly attuned to their pet parents’ feelings and health,” says psychologist Deepti Makhija. They often respond to low moods with patience and behaviour that would benefit the human. She has known people, whose dogs have helped them deal with the empty-nest syndrome. “The dog would become more playful and loving with the mother, who was feeling sad after her child had moved away to study,” adds Makhija. There are also examples of dogs helping their humans deal with anxiety attacks. They will sit in their family member’s lap and lick them until a “mood shift” happens. This simple gesture, according to Makhija, is highly effective in dealing with the episode.

Also read: How to handle your dog's resource guarding behaviour

Then there are also certified therapy dogs that, after years of training, have supported seniors with Alzheimer’s, children on the autism spectrum, and anxious students at schools and colleges.

But even an untrained dog, like mine, no matter the breed, could be his or her human’s best therapist. Dogs love us unconditionally. They don’t judge us. They are just happy being fed, exercised and being around their humans. “This unconditional love in itself is a great therapy,” says Makhija.

Also, dogs seem to always know what to do or what not to do if their human is upset. Khal has never been the kind of dog that barks when I am in a Zoom meeting or asks for petting when I am working. But then there are times when he sticks his face into mine, or places his face on my laptop, refusing to go away until I get up and take a break from that challenging writing assignment. The distraction, though, not always welcome, has always helped. When Khal forces me out of my work desk, I realise my legs are sore or my shoulders or eyes are hurting and that I need to stretch or talk to a friend or my mother, or just walk around on the balcony.

He has also strengthened the bond between my husband and me. He is that common factor that binds us together, and also doesn’t let our fights escalate. As soon as he hears either of us raise our voices, he places himself in between us, nudging us both with his nose turn by turn. More often than not we shut up. In the rare instance that we don’t, Khal gets very disturbed. He frantically paces the house. And seeing him like that, makes us both feel ashamed. The issue we had been fighting over suddenly seems trivial. Khal has taught us to resolve our problems amicably, without yelling at each other.

Also read: Common household things that could be dangerous for your dog

Then, of course, there are the little things he does every day, which assure us that there is somebody in the world, who places us before them. While on our walks, if a stranger suddenly comes out of a hidden place, Khal will stand in front of us, shielding us from the unknown danger.

I was once followed by a stranger from a shop to my car where Khal was resting. I rushed inside, but the man knocked on my window only to unleash my dog’s wrath. Khal growled at the man and barked at him until he left us alone. Just yesterday, he alerted my husband of a cobra crawling on a nearby tree and shooed him away with his constant barks.

Khal is the reason I am not afraid of going on walks even at 4.30 in the morning. I know he has my back. I feel blessed every day to have him in my life. I have never once felt lonely, ignored or not loved after he walked into my life. And that I would say makes for the best therapist, doesn’t it? 

Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based journalist and a first-time pet parent.

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