Canine Corner

The human-animal bond

The Chemistry of Dogs and People

A "Take Your Dogs to Work Day" incident.

Many people at my University know me because of my work and love of dogs, and many also know me as someone who loves to collect stories. So it is not surprising that people often come to me with interesting stories, reports, and anecdotes about dogs. Thus it was when I was at a recent University reception honoring several scientists who had recently received prestigious awards, that I was approached by a well-respected chemistry professor.

 "I suppose you know about Take Your Dog to Work Day?" he asked.

 I did. This has been a popular event which was started in 1999 by a group called Pet Sitters International. This organization trains and certifies pet care professionals, tries to encourage the human animal bond, and also uses the event to promote adopting pets from shelters. The Take Your Dog to Work Day is a lighthearted event that I personally support, or at least support in theory. There is a lot of credible scientific evidence which shows that those workplaces that allow people to bring their pets along with them function more smoothly. There is greater job satisfaction, less absenteeism, and higher productivity. Although I have no real scientific data on the issue, my casual observation is that there seems to be a lot more smiling in workplaces which allow dogs, and those smiles are not only on the faces of people who work there, but also on the people who are serviced or are their customers. In any event, I nodded to indicate that I did know about the event and my colleague continued.

 

"Well in June we had a little incident here on campus involving that day that I thought might amuse you. I was visiting the laboratory of one of my colleagues. He is a really fine researcher, but a bit on the stiff side when it comes to his personality. While I was talking to him, one of his graduate students showed up with a big black retriever on a leash beside him. When they entered the lab my colleague, who was not aware that this was a significant day, was quite annoyed. 'What are you doing with that dog in our lab?' he demanded.

 "The student was not fazed by his professors tone of voice, and answered, 'Well technically this is not a dog, although I admit that this big black container is shaped much like a dog. Actually, weighing in at around 75 pounds, this container holds 1750 cubic feet of gas – mostly oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. He also contains 11 pounds 5 ounces of carbon, which is about enough to make up the filling for 4500 lead pencils. In his blood is 25 grains of iron and in the rest of his body frame there is enough additional iron to make a spike that would actually hold my weight. From the 25 ounces of phosphorus in his body we could make 400,000 matches, and elsewhere in this dog shaped container are hidden 30 lumps of sugar, 10 teaspoons of salt, 19 quarts of water, 1 ounce of lime, and a smattering of starch, chloride of potash, magnesium, sulfur, and even some hydrochloric acid. In addition, although it has less significance for the science of chemistry, he contains a substantial amount of friendship and companionship, although I doubt that the most sensitive of our lab equipment here could measure the quantity exactly.'

 "He then made a grand gesture (like an overly dramatic ham actor) and pointed at a poster on the lab bulletin board announcing that this was the international day to bring dogs to work. My colleague looked in the direction that the student was pointing, and then back down to the dog. He paused for a second, and then laughed. 'Well, if this beast inspired that degree of chemical analysis on your part I suppose he can stay for the day. Just make sure that your "dog shaped container of chemicals" stays under your workbench so that nobody trips over him.'"

 I don't know if that student's chemical analysis of his dog is correct. However I do wish that somewhere in our laboratories we did have the machinery and the techniques to measure the amount of friendship and companionship that our dogs contain. My guess would be that the results would be a very big number.

 Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark; Do Dogs Dream? The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

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