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Has a Dog Saved Your Life?

In recent years, I’ve had more clients than ever with service dogs, especially psychiatric service dogs. Most of these cases involve veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Almost every one of these clients has said, “This dog saved my life.” What they mean is that they were suicidal until receiving the dog. The fact that these dogs have collectively saved so many lives is one of those truths that makes me love my work.

Of course, there are lots of other ways that dogs can save lives besides preventing suicides. They have kept runaway and lost children warm through dangerously cold nights, they have stopped people from stepping onto train tracks, they have led disoriented people home, and they have taken down would-be attackers. They have gone for help or barked to get attention when a person has fallen or is trapped after a car accident, they have woken people up just in time to get out of a house on fire or with high levels of carbon monoxide, and alerted parents that a child has fallen in the pool.

I know of one man whose dog fought off a grizzly bear when they were camping together in Alaska for several months while he conducted field studies for his graduate work. Later, when he returned to the university to write his dissertation, he and his new girlfriend fought about the dog. Specifically, she did not want the dog on the bed because he tended to push her out of it on purpose.

His response? “This dog saved my life and has been with me longer than you have. Once you have literally saved me from death, you will have priority on the bed, but not until that happens.” That relationship did not last, but he soon found a woman who loved being with the dog at night and who the dog did NOT kick out of bed, and they are happily married.

Has a dog ever saved your life?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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