John and I own, love and train a mother-daughter duo of smart, gorgeous and lovable Portuguese waterdogs, Bliss and Oakley.
Gentle Mama Bliss, as we call her, has a full body of soft ringlets that beg you to play with them. The inimitable 8-year-old Ms. Oakley has button eyes peering from a shock of softly sculpted hypoallergenic hair reminiscent of jet-black velvet. Both love rubs under their ears and often return the favor with wet doggy kisses planted on the hands that pet them.
They're beloved at Rittenhouse Square, a genteel city park that has been a meeting place for Philadelphians since long before I was born, where I walk them many times daily.
During a recent 45-minute walk, Oakley, Bliss and I stopped three times for gentle strokes from children who greeted their visitors with self-control and canine charm. Standing still, they looked to me for guidance. I indicated that all was well, and they welcomed friendly pats from two toddlers with sticky fingers from candy in their other hand.
“Mommy, the doggy likes me,” one said.
Smart dogs, like toddlers, require learning new things through positive reward training. Both are well trained. In fact, training time is often the highlight of their days.
Each day, these lucky dogs relax, walk in the park, and savor fresh food. They love training in part because it brings tiny morsels of cheerios, string cheese and canine junk food as rewards for perfect behavior.
From Marlene Nicewander, awarded breeder and Portuguese water dog agility and water skills trainer, such high-value treats, like cold grilled chicken, go far to motivate dogs. The bag was sadly lacking high-value treats; stale cheerios and tiny, hard dog protein treats were all I found, but they would do.
Oakley plays fetch out of sheer delight. Learning this game is the price of admission to play with me.
These astute dogs possess wisdom that defies words. For over a decade, clients in my practice have loved a visit from them. Watching a few clients snuggle on the couch with Bliss and Oakley, I ask what they like about visiting with a dog when they come for psychotherapy.
“We love to be greeted by a gentle and friendly dog who asks little of me and gives me company while we wait to see you," they summarize.
Although human-animal interactions being beneficial is intuitive, I explored research to back up my intuition.
An analysis from Miami University of Ohio and Saint Louis University confirms that people with pets enjoy more caring, relaxation and greater physical fitness, and that growing up around pets teaches children how to care for another being and improves responsibility.
Allow me to invite you to the notion that you, too, might add delight and intellectual stimulation by owning and training a dog soon. Over the last three decades, my relationships with my “four-legged family members" has enriched my life.
To Consider: What might these family members do for you and those you love?
To Explore: The website from the American Kennel Club, www.akc.org, provides information on the breeds and ownership. Meander it and learn about sizes and personalities of breeds available to enhance your life and challenge your intelligence.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Judith Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.