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 Several studies have revealed that within 10 minutes of gazing deeply into a dog’s eyes or petting a sweet little bundle of fur, there are neurochemical changes in the brain. “We get a burst of oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine and endorphins,” explains Rebecca, “which are all chemicals that help us feel happy and allow us to relax.” It’s actually something of a neurochemical free-for-all for both dog and human—and it makes your dog as happy as it does you. And it’s good for your health. In fact, some studies suggest that living with a dog reduces the symptoms and severity of clinical depression, while others have found that it boosts your immune system, reduces blood pressure and lowers your heart rate. The effect is so powerful that the chief cardiologist at one British hospital literally prescribes a dog for men who have just had a heart attack. And he’s found that the chances of a second heart attack in these men are cut by a whopping 400 percent. Dogs also help you maintain an active lifestyle and a healthy weight, adds Rebecca, who co-wrote the book Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound. Which is something Jody Higgs can verify. “I’m getting way more exercise than I was before I got Laurel,” says the trim Vermont woman. “I used to walk once a week, but now I walk for at least an hour every morning.” Building a Lifelong Bond For you and your dog to enjoy a life that brings each of you love, joy and a steady diet of happiness, you need to begin building a lifelong bond on the day that you bring your dog home. Here’s how to do it: Give daily belly rubs. If you have four feet and a furry undercarriage, nothing brings more pleasure than to roll over on your back and have your human gently rub your chest and belly. It’s an excellent way to start the day, and you feel nothing but love for the human who understands that important fact. Build trust. Meet your dog’s needs, says dog trainer Deb Helfrich, director of training and certification for Therapy Dogs of Vermont and founder of GoldStar Dog Training in Stowe and Fairfax. A dog that’s regularly fed, stroked, groomed, played with, and walked will learn to trust you. Learn to speak dog. Study your dog so you know how he or she shows fear, happiness, sadness, excitement, anxiety—the full range of emotions. If you’re not sure what you’re seeing, says Deb, check out doggonesafe.com and learn the signs. You can also sign up for an online course that helps you figure out appropriate responses, or you can get tips from a local trainer. Go to apdt.com for a listing of trainers in your area. Learn together. Obedience training, agility training, freestyle dog dancing, therapy dog training—whatever it is that the two of you learn together will, as you steadily work together, set the foundation for a lifelong relationship. Play together. Grab an old sock for tug-of-war, bounce a tennis ball off the house, hurl a Frisbee across the yard. Help your dog explore his interests with one-on-one attention. No puppy cousins or human brothers allowed. Just the two of you doing something that makes you both feel good. Never use physical punishment. Ever. Walk. Just as that walk around the block after dinner settles you down after a hectic day and lifts your mood, it does the same for your dog, says Rebecca. Shared together every day, it sets the tone for a feel-good relationship. Work through challenges together. When Rebecca adopted Madison, an English setter rescue, the dog came with a lot of little issues, plus an inclination toward aggression. Rebecca enrolled her in 16 weeks of private obedience work, which helped the dog become obedient but didn’t affect the aggression. But Rebecca kept trying. And after working with Madison through several approaches, she eventually found a trainer who was able to reach the dog. Madison became a different dog, and she found her place in the family. And the bond she and Rebecca built as those challenges were confronted is the foundation of a solid relationship today. ELLEN MICHAUD, Editor at Large for Live Happy magazine, is an award-winning writer who lives high in the mountains of Vermont.

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