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Doctor Dog?

It is only now I am able to use this article, as it needed publication of some proof that would change it from my theory into fact. Doctor Dog was the name I gave to Kathryn Hollings dog Benson because of his medical interest in me and this week I read an interesting article published in the English Daily papers.

Over a year ago, I wrote that dogs were now showing that they had the ability to detect cancer cells. An earlier article told of a female dog owner who had a mole on her leg that her dog became increasingly interested in and constantly licking it. After a medical test, they found the mole was cancerous. Because of this story and others like it, this brought about the need for some investigation work to see if dogs could in fact detect which specimens were and which were not cancerous.

Once we believed dogs are using their superior sense of smell, teaching them to detect cancer is relatively easy. All a dog needs to know is what smell are we are going to reward it for and the type of training is the same, as we would teach a dog to detect drugs, explosives, weapons, or human scent depending on the environment in which they are working.

It is not necessary for a dog to learn to detect one scent only as we taught our dogs to detect all of these as well as tracking, searching, finding a hidden criminal or an injured person. Two of the South Yorkshire Constabulary dog handlers have now gone on to train their dogs into expert cadaver hunters. They charge the teams out to other forces at £1500 per day but then we all know the police always did know how to charge.

This week an article appeared in the papers telling us of Tangle a Cocker Spaniel owned by Claire Guest. She has spent the last 7 months training him to be able to differentiate between cancer and not cancer cells with detection success rate of 80% and it seems they can detect cancer earlier than we can with our current diagnostic equipment.

However, is this all that dogs can do? Whilst Kathryn Hollings and I were walking our dogs, Winston stood on my foot and I like many other people I suffer from ingrown toenails. To relieve the pressure I had to take off my boot and sock then her dog Benson immediately came over to investigate. He checked all my toes and detected which side of my big toe was causing me some distress. I sat there for ages whilst Benson licked away and he never seemed to become bored with what he was doing.

Some time later, when my toe was better I offered him both my feet to check but this time he looked and then went away as if to confirm I was better. Thank you Doctor Dog Benson.

Some time later Kathryn purchased Osito another Spanish Water dog. Whilst trying to teach him to swim I had my shoes and socks off in order to wade into the water. When I came out of the water and sat on the sand Osito came over to investigate my toe again as it was causing me trouble. Osito was just like Benson repeatedly licking the correct side of my toe. Even Winston began to take an interest and now he often comes over to me to check I am ok.

For me seeing this medical investigation by a dog I wondered did Osito have this ability as a breed or could all dogs do this. Did Winston also know this but I had never let him near my toes before. The other possibility was had Osito taught him the skill.

When Osito was 7 months, I purchased another Spanish water dog called Trufa. She too is just like Osito and now all three dogs like to check my toes are healthy as well as investigating my somewhat mangled thumb that does give me pain from time to time and they seem to know it. I did wonder if they were only detecting my pain via my body language or was I limping or was there something else to suggest something was wrong.

Some time ago, I wrote that dogs might notice their owners were upset and come to them in what seems like a wish to offer comfort but in reality, they are more likely to see the strange body language and think their position in the hierarchy is at risk. Once they know everything is ok, they wander off again oblivious to the owner’s sadness. This I can understand and know humans would like to think that dogs are caring for us but this is not the case.

Compare this with dogs that show an interest in illness not just in humans but also in other animals like a dog or cat living in the family. Trufa licked a wound on Winston’s neck for ages and he just laid there letting her get on with it. It seems like instinct to have to do it.

As I watched this licking, it looked more like an automatic genetic survival response. We see this in all sorts of things where dogs as well as in humans are programmed to carry out certain procedures where the body rewards them with endorphins. Sexual reproduction is the most common of these instinct based reactions. I am certain this is not something they learn but is already in the genetic survival instinct.

For thousands of years people and animals have been eating willow leaves when they felt unwell. This begged the question as to why. We now know it takes away pain as we have found the leaves contain minute amounts of aspirin. How did they know that?

Wolves do not have doctors so when they are ill either they get better or they died. Yet we see wolves and dogs licking their wounds and the wounds of others in almost a compulsive way so medical care must be instinctive in order to survive.

A friend of mine Eddy Styrin had a dog that developed a limp. The vet could not find anything wrong with the dog’s paw and so it seamed he could no longer work his dog again. His dog was constantly licking its pad and after about 4 months changed to licking the top of its paw. His dog even chewed off all the hair on top of the pad and at about 6 months, there appeared a white spot that his dog constantly licked. Eventually it formed an abscess that the vet lanced. Inside they found a tiny chard of glass. Had the dog kept licking the abscess it would have caused it to erupt allowing the puss material surrounding the glass to flush it out of the paw. Was this Doctor Dog heal thyself?

Certainly now from Tangles training we know he is using scent to detect cancer cells. If we try to understand a dog seeing scent in colours then we might look like a combination of colours and that no one person looks the same. We each may have our own distinct scent signature. When the cells turn cancerous maybe, they show up to a dog as a worrying colour like red as a warning.

Do not be afraid to say to your doctor that your dog seems very interested in a part of your body, as it does not necessarily indicate the likelihood of cancer. If the licking or interest only indicated that sort of prognosis then I will die of ingrown toenails.

There are many stories where people have been ill and only afterwards they have thought to themselves that their dog did seem overly inquisitive but then they dismiss it as wishful thinking.

I do not believe dogs will become commonplace in medical centres checking for positive signs for cancer. It is possible they will use dogs only as a second check but at least we now know that cancer cells smell. Because of this fact, I am certain better diagnostic equipment will develop that can mimic a dog’s sense of smell.

In the meantime, if you have a dog that seems interested in a freckle, a mole, or any part of your body and it is acting in an automatic manner of licking at the spot then do heed this as a possible warning. Your Doctor Dog just might save your life.

Let’s be careful out there.


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