Five Reasons a Dog is Man's Best Friend

Animal names have been applied to plenty of aircraft, and canine connections are no exception – Beagle, Bulldog, Husky, Terrier, for instance. We love our dogs every bit as much as our airplanes.

Imagine the scene in the distant past, a pack of wolves hungrily eyeing early humans feasting on a recent kill. Some were more curious, bolder, and ventured close to the fire, where one amused diner threw the canine a morsel. Perpetuated, this led to domestication and a phrase that was first used by Frederick the Great of Prussia, who described his Italian greyhound as his best friend. Ogden Nash wrote of the dog:

The dog is man’s best friend.

He has a tail on one end.

Up in front he has teeth.

And four legs underneath.


But dogs have so much more to them. Yes, association with us gives them shelter, regular food, better health, and companionship. But they give back plenty.

  1. There is a growing body of evidence that owning a dog is good for your heart. The number one reason pilots lose their right to fly, and right to cast a shadow, is problems with the pump in your chest and blood vessels throughout the body. Dog owners have a lower incidence of cardiovascular problems but there is no clear cause and effect. Maybe having a dog demands one take them for walks, or play energetic dogfights with them? But it is also believed that the mere act of stroking a dog lowers the human’s blood pressure (and probably the puppy’s as well) and we know that lower blood pressure is a good thing. Additionally, dog owners have lower levels of dangerous fats in their blood and this was noted to be independent of other factors such as weight, diet, and smoking.
  2. Similarly, stress is reduced by spending time with a dog and that independently helps physical, as well as mental, health. We know, for instance, that when one is stressed, part of the visceral response is for blood pressure and heart rate to go up and that tends to induce more concern and stress, stimulating a vicious cycle. I am currently dogless and the vacuum in my life is palpable. If you don’t believe me, just stroke a dog and note how you are feeling.
  3. Loneliness is an independent factor that predisposes one to a shorter life span, and having a dog has been shown to be associated with a longer life. One has to be cautious because it may just be that people who choose to have dogs are more health conscious. Dogs can not only fill a void in someone’s life, but by having and walking with a dog, meeting and talking to people is always likely. I know when I was out with my lovely dog, he was a magnet to anyone who saw his scruffy and inviting face.
  4. Society has become a lot cleaner than when I was a lad and many think that this focus on avoiding germs may be responsible for the surge in certain diseases such as food allergies and immune conditions. Having a dog bring dirt and microbes into the house may expose one to all sorts of stimuli that encourage the immune system to function more efficiently.
  5. The microbiome refers to the enormous number and diversity of bugs living in our guts and there is a growing body of knowledge that it impacts so many disease processes and maybe even the way we think and act. Having a dog around changes the microbiome and could be associated with lowering the risk of certain illnesses where inflammation plays a role. We know that dogs not only have a profoundly more sensitive nose, they smell timelines associated with aromas. A growing number of investigators are confirming that dogs can smell changes in a person’s breath when they develop lung cancer or in their urine if prostate cancer appears. So maybe having a trained dog around could clue one in to incipient disease in the future.

There are, of course risks; dogs can bite, jump up and knock over small children or the elderly, and may make a nice vehicle to bring ticks and other unwanted visitors into your home. Shedding hair can provoke adverse reactions in the allergic, and poor training – or old age – can lead to deposits of the unwanted kind. But in the years I have had dogs these are minor considerations.

I would encourage any pilot who has a dog, or is thinking of getting one, to consider how he or she would fit into your flying. Everyone has seen dog cones, a device that looks like the pet is trying to imitate a radar installation. These can be modified by adding padding around the collar and a clear plastic front with a tube to deliver oxygen so when you fly high, you can breathe easily knowing your dog can also (check out Teaching the animal how to sit in a seat with a modified harness is not too challenging and once they are used to it you will have a happy cockpit cockapoo. Ear protection is also necessary – standard headsets work well so you can even have a nice chat during low intensity parts of the flight – along with a decent pair of goggles or sunglasses to protect their eyes from the UV – no, I am not joking! Of course, ensure you have taken your Portuguese Water Dog co-pilot for a walk to relieve themselves of excess water before taking off!

I recently read a wonderful book, Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz, and I recommend it to all – the author provides a wonderful and well-researched perspective that certainly changed the way I viewed these lovely creatures.

As a pilot, I am sure you have taken one or more planes up for a test flight, so why not consider taking a dog out for test walk, something a number of shelters will allow one to do. My guess is that this is one puppy that will be hard to return to the hangar and you will be better off for the ride.

Jonathan Sackier
Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

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