OK so off you go into independent learning everybodyand Joanna we'll call you when it's your turn to comeand read with Maddie. Well done. Picture the scene. We're in the middle ofthe English countryside in a little village in a tiny school. There are only 18 pupils hereand today they have one very special visitor. She loves cuddling up when you read to her andshe always finds it really nice hearing peopleread. What have you been doing? I'm reading to Maddie. And who's Maddie? A dog. Do you like reading to dogs? Yes. Why, what do you likeabout it? She's very calm. Maddie is a dog and yes she is here for story time. It's unclear if sheactually understands English but that doesn't seem to phase the children at all.
Is it more funthan reading just on your own or to humans? Yeah. Why do you think that is? It makes it not boringbecause that you've got someone to listen to you reading so I find it really nice. Do you thinkthat the dogs also like it? Yeah probably. It's like story time for you. Well yeah pleasepick a book and go ahead. It might sound strange but the school hasfound that having a dog in the classroom really does help the kids with their reading. MatthewRobinson is from the charity Pets As Therapy. Time spent in the presence of a therapy animalcan have a very calming effect. Children will feel more relaxed, more able to join in withother activities. It's interesting sort ofhearing you know you describe the project becauseon paper it seems like bringing a very cute dog into a school sounds like the worst idea inthe world like the kids are going to be too.
Distracted, they're not going to do their workwork but actually it helps them in kind of lots of ways emotionally and mentally but also kind ofhelps with their learning. Yeah it doesn't seem to be this distracting element, it's very much a calming influence you know just sittingin close proximity stroking because the dog actsas a non-judgmental listener. It really doesn't care how the child pronounced the word, if they'respeaking quite you know low volume, they're justthere to be loved. And the school's headteacher EmmaWallace has also noticed the positive impact ofhaving a reading dog. Research tells us thatvocabulary acquisition and learning to read really change the life chances of children asthey move forward in their education and into their careers, so we do everything we can whenthey come into school to support that, but it's.
Not always easy for some children it isharder and so then we need to look at some of these little adaptations that are going to helpthem find that excitement find that joy and not feel fearful of reading and that's where thedogs can really take part and and a big part. Joanna and Maddie are leaving now so canwe all say goodbye as they go. This is CrowdScience from the BBC WorldService. I'm Anand Jagatia and today's episode is all about the incredible things that dogs are ableto do for humans. They can help us read, hunt, they can protect us, guide us and provide us with joyand companionship. Dogs are just good for us, orare they? That's what this week's question comesdown to from father and son Jason and Finn who live in Guernsey in the Channel Islands with theirown faithful hound.
Here he comes. Hello, who's this then? So this isScout. Hello Scout. I mean he's cute, he's cuddly, he's warm in the winter. There are benefits Iknow from walking the dog on a regular basis it was supposed to be my son's dog but as isoften the case I've ended up doing a lot of the… It's a tale as old as time isn't it. That's right.Is he a good boy in general? Yeah he's a very good boy, yeah, wouldn't be without himfor the world. Finn tell me about your relationship with Scout. I mean do you like havinga dog? Yes I like it he's a playful dog but can be calming at times and I really like that he'sreally understanding when you're feeling sad and he can be a fun dog to play with. You saidthat Scout is a good boy in general but what's the naughtiest thing that he's done do you think? Sometimes I have a croissant with ham in it.
The dog thinks 'ooh ham' and just eats the wholething. So is food his weakness basically, if you leave your food unattended it will get eaten byScout? Yeah that's for certain. He came home once with him on the table. And the one ofthe things I notice is he is a magnet for dust anddirt. I mean so in a nutshell is your questionbasically: Is having a dog good for you overall? Because there's obviously downsides right, there'sthe mud, there's the footprints, there's the fur and then there's the stress of like when dogsdo things they shouldn't do which all dogs do but also there's all the positives right thatyou talked about. Yeah so in general: What is the scientific evidence that proves that dogs aregood for you? Now Jason and Finn aren't alone in wondering about this question because at thestart of this year after being a cat person for a.
Very long time, I officially became a dog person. Doyou want to go for a walk, shall we go for a walk? This is my puppy Stella. She's six monthsold and she's a mix of greyhound, collie, terrier and who knows what else. Now I will gotoe-to-toe with anyone who suggests that Stella is not in fact the best dog in the wholeworld but I, like many pet owners, could be biased. So to answer Jason and Finn's question we needto speak to someone who can separate the warm fuzzy ideas that we have about our warm fuzzyfriends from the reality of how they actually impact our lives and I think we found just theperson. Oh my gosh Annabelle. This isdefinitely going in the final edit by the way. Hold on a second. Good girl, I love you, thankyou. This is Kerri Rodriguez. She's a researcher.
At the University of Arizona in the US. I am thedirector of the human-animal bond lab, where we study the role that animals, especially dogs, haveon human health and well-being. So it sounds likeyour basic basically trying to grapple with Jasonand Finn's question in your job every day, so how would you even go about trying to study thatscientifically, whether having a pet broadly is good for people, when you look at a population,or if the balance is the other way? So we can of course ask you how you feel, we can eitherinterview you or have you fill out a survey of your loneliness levels and your depression levelsand look at how pets are influencing those things. We can also look at some objective indicators ofhealth and well-being, things like how you're sleeping at night or how your brain is actuallyputting out stress chemicals or stress hormones.
And we can then look at how dogs are affectingthose things as well. And what are some of the challenges of doing that kind of research? The bestscience that we have is a randomised control trial or a clinical trial. You have two groups – one halfgets the drug, one half gets a sugar pill and then you can measure the efficacy of the drug. We can'treally do that with pets, it's really hard to find a sample and then randomise to whether theyget a dog or not. So because we can't really do those studies we have a lot of correlationswhich means we can find that dogs are associated with things like less loneliness but we have noidea if dogs are actually causing less loneliness. It could be that people are less lonely and thenthey get a dog or it could be that they get a dog and they're less lonely. It's really hard to studythe direction of that.
In this field are there any broad correlations like loneliness that you justmentioned that tend to be associated with having a dog? Are there any outcomes that we can say well onaverage it seems like people who have a dog tend to be more like this or tend to have a life thatgoes like this? Yeah the mental health literature is a bit mixed. There are some studies that findthat dogs are associated with better depression, anxiety and loneliness but there are some thatdon't find any differences at all, so that's a area that we have a little bit of mixed science. One ofthe areas where we're pretty sure that dogs have a great effect on is cardiovascular health or ourheart health because dogs are getting us up and moving so we do know pretty confidently that dogsare really great for improving physical movement where they're associated with more steps takenper day, more activity overall and better heart.
Health and what's really interesting is that it'snot just pet walking which of course is a great way to get exercise, it's also little things likesit to stand movements. So for individuals that are elderly that is a really big impact on theiroverall health. When you have to give your dog food and water or give them a treat, play with them,that's also really meaningful activity as well. And I guess there is something very specialabout dogs and their relationship with humans right I mean I guess there's a reason why you mainly focus on dogs rather than goldfish or or cats. What is it about dogs that gives themthis bond with humans? Yeah I am a secret cat person, I do love my cat more than life butthe reality is that dogs are the most prevalent as service dogs and therapy dogs because theyare so highly trainable and they love working.
With humans, they love their jobs. So dogs arereally incredible because we've shared tens of thousands of years of interacting with them andthey're really attuned to our emotions and they really are succeeding in these therapeutic roles.One of the areas in our field that we're doing a lot of work on is researching the efficacy ofpsychiatric service dogs for military veterans with PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder andthese service dogs are different from pet dogs or therapy dogs because they are specificallytrained for tasks that are directly helping adisability. How does that work? Tell me more aboutthe kinds of things that people with PTSD would be using a dog for? They can be trained to be alert to aveteran's anxiety and actually help calm them down by applying deep pressure or distraction. Theyhelp veterans navigate crowds and overall feel.
More comfortable in public, especially veteransthat are really hyper-alert in public and they can also do things like wake up the veteran fromnightmares or retrieve medication. Dogs can pick up on little things like you know our heartrate increasing, our breath getting a little more quick, stress hormones firing. We startto act different and smell different and so dogs are really great at that especially when they'rereally bonded to their human like these veterans and service dogs are. Dogs can help alert us towhen we're feeling stressed and then provide that little bit of a lick or a nudgeto say 'hey pet me, focus on me, I'm here for you and it's all going to be OK'. What have you foundthen when looking at the impact that having a service dog has on people with PTSD? We foundthat the group of veterans with service dogs had.
Significantly lower levels of PTSD symptoms thanthose who did not have a service dog on the waitlist to receive one. It was just as effective asfrontline treatments for PTSD, such as medication or behavioural therapies. Veterans with service dogsalso had lower levels of depression, lower anxiety less anger and increased social participationand the coolest thing is that veterans of PTSD service dogs actually have different brainchemistry than veterans on the waitlist for a service dog. When we quantify their stresshormones we find that veterans with a service dog have different stress profiles and a healthiercortisol profile than those without a service dog, so all of that research really tells us that there issomething meaningful happening here. So if you're a war veteran with PTSD according to Kerry's studyhaving a trained service dog can definitely be.
Good for you but it's more difficult to quantifythe effects of the average pet pooch, especially if you're trying to separate correlation fromcausation. For example, it seems like dog owners have better cardiovascular health, although maybethat's partly because fitter people are more likely to get a dog in the first place. Let's check inwith Finn and Jason again and see how they think that Scout might be helping them out. Does havinga dog in the house benefit your children from the perspective of their immunity? I haven't had hay fever or anything whilst I've gotten a dog so I would like to know if that's affected me or not.As we've said questions like this are tricky to answer, but there are people who have tried. I am aveterinarian by training and I practiced for a while as a small animal veterinarian and my clientstold me how much their animals meant to them.
And it made them healthy and so on and then Ibecame an epidemiologist and I wanted to study this relationship with like actual real datanot just having anecdotes. Tove Fall is a molecular epidemiologist at Upsala University in Swedenand she studied whether growing up with a pet dog makes children less likely to develop asthma whichis a condition linked to the immune system. Now the difficulty here is that so many things that couldaffect whether you own a dog might also impact your immunity like maybe people who have a dog dohave healthier immune function but they might also be more likely to live in the countryside, so howdo you tangle out which thing is affecting what? Well it turns out that Sweden is the perfect placeto do this because they have extensive medical records on their population and a dog registersince 2001 and using this Tove has been able to.
Track the health of 275,000 babies born since thenwhile accounting for lots of other factors in the data like where people live but other things too. We also can capture a lot of these confounding factors, for example if the parents are allergicor have asthma it might be less likely to get a dog right and their children might beat increased risk of asthma because of their genetics but we can capture that and account forthose kind of disturbing or confounding factors in our analysis. First we actually looked at who livedon a dairy farm because we knew that growing up on a farm is protective to asthma and we could confirmthat relationship and actually with having a dog it seemed almost like a mini farm because its farmeffect was about 50% and the dog effect was 13% reduction in risk of asthma. It's not a huge effectsize but it's going in the protective direction so.
After this we could say that in Sweden we don'tsee any evidence that it should be risky for you to keep a dog in the family when the baby growsup but then of course if the baby gets asthma then it's another thing, then you should always listento your doctor and take their advice. So if you already have asthma then having a dog mightbe bad for your immune function but it might stop you from getting asthma in the first place?Exactly when you think about it having a dog is quite complex exposure, so you're both exposed toallergens which could be things from the dog skin or urine or saliva but it's also you're exposedto microbes and in line with the hygiene and microbiome hypothesis that could be very goodfor your immune system. So the immune system, the first years of life the white blood cells aretrained on what is normal and what is not normal.
And if you live in a too clean household thehypothesis goes that okay the immune system will be overreactive because it doesn't have enoughto train on during this period but also we know that children growing up with dogs they also spendmore time outdoors. Other studies have shown that, so that could also expose you to other exposures.So it's a complex exposure and my hypothesis that it's good you know to be exposed to a bitof dirt and germs and stuff. With the allergens we don't know yet, but it's like a mixedbag. I've heard about this idea that the hygiene hypothesis or the old friends hypothesis peopletalk about this idea that we used to have in our history in our past as a species we had exposureto a lot more different kind of microbes and so having a dog means that you're outside more andyou get exposure to those microbes which is maybe.
Good for teaching your immune system and stoppingyou from getting these conditions but on the other hand the dog itself could be an allergen so thejury's out as to whether that's going to help you or harm you when developing asthma. Exactly thatwas a great summary. So it seems like there is evidence that owning a dog does impact your immunesystem and there is also evidence that it does so in a positive way? Yeah I mean it's pointing inthat direction so until anyone proves it wrong I think it's leaning in that direction yes. You'relistening to CrowdScience from the BBC World Service where we're taking a closer look at ourcanine companions. Are they good for our health and well-being? Although it's hard to get good data onthis, from what we've heard so far it looks like they might be, at least when it comes to asthmaor cardiovascular health. So far, so good doggy,.
But the thing is even the best dogs can be badsometimes. Stella what have you done now? So she ate our reward card. Yeah coffee reward card. We'reonly two Stella we were only two stamps away from a free cup of coffee. I have to come clean here.Stella does have some pretty destructive habits, like sneaking into places she shouldn't and veryquietly tearing things apart. What are you doing? Go downstairs. Who made all this mess Stella was thisyou? I think we can take her silence here as an admission of guilt. Now of course if you decide tolet an animal roam freely around your house then you may have to accept that some of your stuffgets ruined, but this raises an issue which is that having a dog who lives indoors like one ofthe family is a very Western idea. So we wanted to ask you our CrowdScience listeners how youfeel about these animals?.
Hello, good evening, I'm from Nigeria. It is prohibitedto keep your dog in your house, except under two conditions. Number one is for security purposesand number two is for hunting. You can easily own a dog without any license but these dogs arenot normally trained to behave well, especially in public. Dogs can be dangerous because theycan bite people to death. I'm scared of them, they still have a wild instinct inside. Hi I'm Wilma, I'mfrom Albania. In my country there are two kinds of people, those who love them a lot and those whohate them. In the past the dogs were seen only as guard dogs. Our childhood dog named Nina, it guardedus when our parents were working. Hi, I'm from Andaman Islands, India. Dogs havealways been an integral part of my life. In my home, they would be a source of joy. Outside in streets,offices, airports etc they would be a source of.
Protection, awareness and overall a landscapepresence. Domesticated or stray, they're indeed man's best friend. I love that phrase a landscapepresence. Thanks to everyone who got in touch and made the point that attitudes about dogs certainlydiffer around the world and in fact when you look globally pets like Stella are the exception ratherthan the rule. There are roughly a billion dogs on Earth however the vast majority you might say70-80% of those don't live in apartments, they don't live in houses, they don't have ownersper se. They typically live around humans but they're basically free-ranging but we also seeenormous differences in the frequency which people keep pet dogs. So for example in Egypt there areapproximately 10 pet dogs per 1,000 people, in the United States there's approximately 250 petdogs per 1,000 people.
This is Hal Herzog. He's an anthrozoologist, which means he spent decadestrying to understand the way that we think about animals including our pets. All of us that lovepets are convinced that our pets are good for us, we really want to believe that our pets are goodfor us. The problem is that there's a mismatch between what the empirical research is actuallyshowing and what we want to believe. Hal points out something that might seem kind of obvious. Manydog owners have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to admitting the negative aspects of theirbeloved pets. I'm guilty of it and it seems so is listener Jason. You have done yourself amischief I hear on one of your walks? Yeah quite a few actually. Yeah I forgot to mentionthat, I was walking the dog down at a local beach just down the road from us one winter, I slipped onthe slip way and fractured three or four of my.
Ribs very early in the morning, so I sufferedhypothermia and had a quick visit to the hospital. I want to say that's the dog's fault. Would I bewalking down the beach at 6:30 in the morning without the dog? Probably not. Ouch poor Jason,but he's not alone. Eighty-five thousand Americans are taken to hospital emergency rooms each year because theytrip over their dog usually resulting in a broken leg or… Our dog is an absolute trip hazard. She'sso long so it's like there's a maximum area and she's really quiet and she's very short,so the number of times I've almost broken my neck I think in the kitchen and she's only six monthsold so… Yeah so it'll probably get bigger and might become more of a problem. In theUnited States about 300,000 people are taken to the emergency rooms each year because of dogbites. Pets are the the second largest source of.
Conflict between neighbours in the United States. Fighting, biting, broken limbs, these are some pretty serious potential downsides. So I asked Hal whatdoes he make of Jason and Finn's question? Overall, is having a dog good for you? As the researchhas gotten better, the studies have had more subjects, as they've gotten better controls, whatwe see is more and more studies are not finding evidence, measurable evidence, that pet ownersare happier or that their well-being is better or they're less depressed or they'reless likely to have high blood pressure so the research is really mixed. I don't think thereis solid convincing evidence that pet owners are better off than non-pet owners. But it's quitea broad question right to say like 'Is having a dog good for you?', well what does that even mean. Itmakes me think about having kids right,.
Like loads of people that I know that have kids, arethey happier because they have kids? No they're probably more stressed, they have less money, butnobody says 'Is having kids good for you?', nobody has kids because it's good for you, you havekids because it fulfils some sort of human need and it's meaningful. Yes you're exactly right.I think that's such an important point and I think the connection between kids is right on target.There's a whole field of happiness studies in psychology now but what it tends to show is thatpeople with kids are less happy than people that don't have kids but on the other hand there's afulfilment that comes with kids that we can't measure. When you ask people on a scale of oneto 10 or something like that you know how happy are you I think that's really missing something. There's something that comes with the love of a.
Pet that's very very hard to measure. We havethese quantitative measures that are not getting at this deeper sense of satisfaction and happinesswe get. Our last pet, she died unfortunately last year and we haven't replaced her, was a catthat was kind of wild and she only liked two people, she liked me and she liked a woman thatcomes and helps clean our house and every evening she would come and she would jump in mylap voluntarily and she would let me pet her and look at me for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. I felt I hadthis little wild thing in my life that gave me great satisfaction and that would occasionallylet me be her friend and I miss her deeply even though that would not be measured on our standardmeasures of happiness, depression, survival from heart attacks and stuff like that.
Yeah very true.I think that's a really good way of putting it and one of the surprising things in making the showis I would would never have categorised myself as a dog person like maybe 10 years ago, I didn'treally get what all the fuss was about, I thought dogs were kind of annoying, a bit slobbery, veryneedy, a lot of work. All true. Yeah and exactly I mean I still see that objectively thatis true but ever since getting a dog I kind of feel like I have opened my heart up ina way that I didn't realise was possible, I've have discovered you know new depths of humanemotion that I didn't previously experience and I think my life is richer for it. I think yousaid that really beautifully. I really like the way you put that I absolutely agree with you. So Finn, Jason, from the evidence I'm not sure we can say conclusively that having a dog is good forour health but maybe they're good for our souls.
And while that's not something we can measureit is just as important. That's all forthis episode of CrowdScience from the BBC World Service.This question was from me Finn and my dad Jason on the Isle of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Theprogramme was presented by Anand Jagatia and produced by Emily Bird. If you have a question that youwouldlike to be answered, please email [email protected]. Thanks for listening, bye.