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Karen B. London
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Sometimes Only Dogs Bring Comfort
Dogs do what people can’t
The emotional support only a dog can provide

“Sometimes only the dogs can make her feel better. They do what I can’t,” a friend of mine confided in me. He was explaining that after a year of marriage, he had learned that when he wife is particularly sad, the dogs have the best hope of easing her pain. Yesterday had been one of those really bad days, and she had spent much of the evening brushing their dogs, lying down with them and crying beside them. My friend was grateful to have the German Shepherd and Malamute in the family.

It’s well known that dogs can do so much that people can’t, with the most common examples usually related to sniffing out land mines or finding lost people. We all know that therapy dogs work miracles, and most of us receive tremendous emotional benefits from our own interactions with dogs. So it should come as no surprise that dogs provide emotional support that’s not just equal to what humans give, but sometimes far better.

Yet my friend doesn’t like most people to know what he just told me—that sometimes only the dogs can make his wife feel better. He worries that people will think he’s not supportive, that their relationship is troubled, and that his wife is strange, even though none of that is true. He told me because he knew I’d understand, which of course I do.

In what situations can your dog make you feel better when nobody else can?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Barbara Saunders | April 23 2012 |

Have there been any research studies on this phenomenon?

Submitted by Anonymous | April 23 2012 |

I have severe depression. I also have seven rescue dogs. Some days, the only thing that keeps me going is focusing on my dogs and on their routines, making sure they are fed and walked. They provide comfort that no human can because I know that they will never betray me, and they will never look at me and say, " I don't know why you are so depressed. You should just get over it." I know that no matter what else happens in my life, I have made a difference to these dogs. Two of them would have been euthanized for behavioral problems by now. They give me a reason to get out of bed every morning.

Submitted by Carol | December 7 2013 |

My elder rescue dogs have also kept me going on days I wouldn't have gotten up. They need me and I need them. Very conforting to listen to them breathe and sometimes snore!!!!!

Submitted by Nancy J | April 23 2012 |

There are times when you don't want to explain, when you don't want anyone's advise, when you don't want someone asking you questions about how you feel or why you feel the way you do.

My dogs can just sit there, let me pet them all I want, cuddle some, lay down and nap a little, kiss my tears away. I don't have to say a word; they know when you hurt, when you are troubled. Mine are calm, not demanding, not playing; they are soothing me with their presence only.

Submitted by Dave | October 20 2012 |

Tell your friend not to feel ashamed ...His wife is fortunate to have someone who recognizes when she is sad and what works best for her. My bet is that there a many people who wish they had a friend/spouse who is as sensitive and caring as him.

Submitted by LSK | January 20 2013 |

When a friend of mine and his wife lost their newborn shortly after birth, their dogs were an immense comfort to them. I especially remember my friend, who was a trial lawyer, had a busy work schedule that he needed to return to quite soon after the funeral. He had one of their dogs accompany him that first day when he had several meetings out of the office. It really did help him to have the loving, non-judgmental company of his beloved pup who could handle his sorrow in-between having to be all business.

Submitted by Judy | September 27 2013 |

After the death of my daughter, my Chihuahua/Yorkie mix, was my best source of comfort and understanding! After 14 years, she is still giving me that same support and love that humans will never understand! I am so blessed!!

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