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Why dog is man’s best friend

Canine companions are linked to lowered heart disease risk and reduced stress.

By Joy Jernigan - MSN Living Editor Jun 21, 2013 4:29PM

Take Your Dog to Work DayFriday is Take Your Dog to Work Day, so don’t be surprised if you see a few furry visitors around the office.

Dog is often called man’s best friend, but what’s really behind that bond between a master and his canine companion?

Consider John Unger of Wisconsin and his ailing shepherd, Schoep, whom Unger adopted as a puppy. The duo won hearts last year when a photo of Unger rocking his arthritic dog to sleep in Lake Superior went viral. More than $25,000 in donations poured in to help pay for therapy and medications for the dog, who just turned 20. And who could forget the touching photograph of Figo, a K-9 officer bidding farewell to his fallen human partner, Kentucky police officer Jason Ellis?

“The emotional connection people have with a dog, it can be very intense,” said Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and the author of “Do Dogs Dream?”

Bing: It's Take Your Dog to Work Day

It’s a bond that goes back at least 14,000 years, although recent findings suggest dogs may have been domesticated as early as 33,000 years ago. Since then, we’ve been selectively breeding dogs to read our communications gestures and our moods.

“Basically, they’re masters of body language,” Coren said. “Dog is man’s best friend because we’ve created him to be man’s best friend.”

There are 78.2 million pet dogs in the United States, according to The Humane Society. Although Americans own fewer dogs than cats (86.4 million), a dog can be found in 46 percent of U.S. households.

More from MSN Living: Share a photo of your dog at work

Dogs have been linked to decreased risk for heart disease, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduced stress, according to the American Heart Association. Dog owners also tend to get more exercise because they walk their pet.

Like people, dogs are social creatures. They greet us at the end of a long day, tail wagging. “We actually feel less lonely in the presence of animals,” said Alan Beck, director for the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University.

More from MSN Living: 10 reasons pets make better partners than people

The mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a 2-year-old child, Coren said. A highly intelligent dog’s mind may be closer to that of 2 1/2 to 3-year-old child. “We talk to dogs the same way we talk to kids,” Coren said. We often speak in a high-pitched voice and use diminutives. “Do you want a cookie? Yes, I know you want a cookie."

Many Americans are emotionally invested in their pets. Dogs give us someone to nurture, someone who is highly dependent upon us — someone who is content with an occasional pat on the head.

“The bottom line is, you get out of a dog what you put into a dog,” Coren said.

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