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Dogs have earned the title “man’s best friend” for many good reasons. Canines are great companions.  They can boost our spirits or soothe our stress. They protect us and make us feel secure. Whether they are official therapy dogs or not, dogs can also be a great help to people like me who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

I have always loved animals. I got my first dog a few years ago and it has been a wonderful experience. Bridget is a cute little Dachshund, and I connected with her immediately. I learned to take care of her and be dependable. In return she’s a faithful friend to me. Japanese animal behaviorist Takefumi Kikusui and his colleagues discovered that people love their pet dogs like children, and the feeling is mutual. Now that we’re a team I am amazed by how much my little dog means to me.

I have spent many years learning to get along with others. I’ve noticed that Bridget has excellent social skills! In fact, research by Wobber and Hare (2009) shows that dogs can communicate, cooperate and follow social cues. Bridget has taught me a lot about how to be a friend. Here are 7 friendship lessons we can all learn from our dogs and apply to our relationships with humans:

1. Greet enthusiastically.

I always get a warm welcome from Bridget and excited tail-wagging whether I’ve been gone for five hours or five minutes!  It’s a great feeling to be missed and welcomed back. Our human friends also appreciate a warm greeting so they know we’re glad to see them again. It’s an easy way to show people that they’re important to us. After a friendly greeting, be sure to ask your friend about their family, school, work or something they’ve done recently for fun.

2. Have fun together.

Dogs are playful and love to have fun.  Whether it is fetch or tug-of-war, dogs never get bored of playing.  Having fun together is a great foundation for friendship between people. Finding people who like to play the same games that you do can be great ways to make new friends. “Sharing toys” or trying new activities are also good ways to get the fun started. I have a great time with my friends from the American Coaster Enthusiasts who like to ride the coasters and go to theme parks as much as I do.

3. Be a good listener.

Yes, many of us talk to our dogs and even confide in them. Studies show that our dogs are listening, paying close attention to what we say. I can tell Bridget anything. It’s safe to say our pets are not going to spill our secrets.  While she may not understand a word I am saying, I feel better when I can express my feelings. The same is true for human friends. Everyone likes to have a friend who they can trust with feelings or secrets, someone who listens without interrupting.  Most people really value a friend who is an empathetic listener!

4. Get out there!

What happens when you jiggle the leash or say “Car!” to your dog? Chances are it is cause for great excitement! Dogs are always up for an adventure and love to be out in the world. Even ordinary outings are a chance to meet new dogs and/or people. What a great lesson for us all: embrace the opportunity to go places, meet others, and appreciate the little things in life! Let your dog be your wingman at the dog park, a dog obedience class or dog café where you can meet other dog lovers.

5. Live up to your dog’s high expectations of you.

Our pets count on us to take care of them. We feed, bathe and clean up after them. We keep them healthy, walking them and taking them to the vet.  These unselfish acts create a bond between a pet owner and his or her animal. Good friends are reliable and strive to live up to their friends’ expectations, too! Like the golden rule says, treat your friends the way you want to be treated. Your friends will appreciate your good qualities, like you appreciate theirs.

6. Be kind and gentle.

Bridget is a gentle little dog. I could take food out of her mouth and she wouldn’t bite me. Bridget can count on me to pick her up when the pavement is too hot for her little paws, or for a belly rub.  Kindness and gentleness are signs of the trust between us. People deserve and appreciate acts of caring and kindness even more than our pets do. Kindness goes a long way in relationships, whether it is carrying something for a neighbor or being there for someone going through a difficult time.

7. Offer unconditional l­ove and affection.

Dogs are well-known for their unconditional love. They say that a dog is the only thing in the world that loves you more than he loves himself. Dogs let us know on a regular basis just how much they love us, whether it is via a doggie-kiss or snuggling up close. We don’t have to be perfect to earn our dogs’ love, which is a good thing! We can all follow this positive example from our dogs and love other people without expecting them to be perfect. It is an act of true friendship to accept people as they are and not expect them to be something or someone they are not!

I have learned a lot from Bridget and benefit greatly from having her in my life. This little doxie has definitely earned the title of this man’s best friend! Dogs can teach us so much about animals and people.

Enjoy and learn from the animals in your life every day you can, because our furry friends won’t always be with us. What friendship skills has your dog taught you? Please share your comments, I would love to hear from you.

Thanks to Kyle Duffy for these great pictures
and Emily Iland for assistance with this article.

And Bridget, of course!

I’m happy to share insights about my life with Autism Spectrum Disorder in my professional presentations and trainings. Learn more at www.ThomasIland.com and like Thomas Iland on my social channels for more messages and inspiration. I would love to hear from you!

Nagasawa, M., Mitsui, S., En, S., Ohtani, N., Ohta, M., et al. (2015). Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds. Science348(6232), 333-336.

Ratcliffe et al. Orienting asymmetries in dogs’ responses to different communicatory components of human speech. Current Biology, November 2014

Wobber, V., & Hare, B. (2009). Testing the social dog hypothesis: Are dogs also more skilled than chimpanzees in non-communicative social tasks? Behavioural Processes, 81(3), 423-428.

I would love to hear your thoughts, please comment below

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