Their long association with humans has led dogs to be uniquely attuned to human behavior[18] and they are able to thrive on a starch-rich diet that would be inadequate for other canid species.[19] Dogs vary widely in shape, size and colors.[20] They perform many roles for humans, such as hunting, herding, pulling loads, protection, assisting police and military, companionship and, more recently, aiding disabled people and therapeutic roles. This influence on human society has given them the sobriquet of "man's best friend".
According to statistics published by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in the National Pet Owner Survey in 2009–2010, it is estimated there are 77.5 million people with pet dogs in the United States.[152] The same survey shows nearly 40% of American households own at least one dog, of which 67% own just one dog, 25% two dogs and nearly 9% more than two dogs. There does not seem to be any gender preference among dogs as pets, as the statistical data reveal an equal number of female and male dog pets. Yet, although several programs are ongoing to promote pet adoption, less than a fifth of the owned dogs come from a shelter.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, 3–4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in the United States and many more are confined to cages in shelters because there are many more animals than there are homes. Spaying or castrating dogs helps keep overpopulation down.[75] Local humane societies, SPCAs, and other animal protection organizations urge people to neuter their pets and to adopt animals from shelters instead of purchasing them.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, 3–4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in the United States and many more are confined to cages in shelters because there are many more animals than there are homes. Spaying or castrating dogs helps keep overpopulation down.[75] Local humane societies, SPCAs, and other animal protection organizations urge people to neuter their pets and to adopt animals from shelters instead of purchasing them.

The scientific evidence is mixed as to whether companionship of a dog can enhance human physical health and psychological wellbeing.[191] Studies suggesting that there are benefits to physical health and psychological wellbeing[192] have been criticised for being poorly controlled,[193] and finding that "the health of elderly people is related to their health habits and social supports but not to their ownership of, or attachment to, a companion animal." Earlier studies have shown that people who keep pet dogs or cats exhibit better mental and physical health than those who do not, making fewer visits to the doctor and being less likely to be on medication than non-guardians.[194]


"The most widespread form of interspecies bonding occurs between humans and dogs"[136] and the keeping of dogs as companions, particularly by elites, has a long history.[142] (As a possible example, at the Natufian culture site of Ain Mallaha in Israel, dated to 12,000 BC, the remains of an elderly human and a four-to-five-month-old puppy were found buried together).[22] However, pet dog populations grew significantly after World War II as suburbanization increased.[142] In the 1950s and 1960s, dogs were kept outside more often than they tend to be today[143] (using the expression "in the doghouse" to describe exclusion from the group signifies the distance between the doghouse and the home) and were still primarily functional, acting as a guard, children's playmate, or walking companion. From the 1980s, there have been changes in the role of the pet dog, such as the increased role of dogs in the emotional support of their human guardians.[144] People and dogs have become increasingly integrated and implicated in each other's lives,[145] to the point where pet dogs actively shape the way a family and home are experienced.[146]

Neutering refers to the sterilization of animals, usually by removal of the male's testicles or the female's ovaries and uterus, in order to eliminate the ability to procreate and reduce sex drive. Because of the overpopulation of dogs in some countries, many animal control agencies, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), advise that dogs not intended for further breeding should be neutered, so that they do not have undesired puppies that may later be euthanized.[74]
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