Any true dog lover could tell you that dogs really do make humans feel better when we’re down – but now, science is backing it up.
Research has shown that levels of the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates social bonding, relaxation, and trust, while also easing stress, rises in both humans and dogs when the two interact.
“Dogs make people feel good,’’ Brian Hare, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at Duke University, told the Washington Post.
Hare made reference to the fact that dogs are now being found in a number of public spaces, like courtrooms, exam study halls, hospitals, nursing homes, hospice-care settings, classrooms, and airports.
“Their only job is to help people in stressful situations feel better. Many people seem to respond to dogs in a positive way,’’ he said.
Hare suggests that the same connection that exists when a parent looks into the eyes of a baby has now been established between humans and dogs.
“Dogs have somehow hijacked this oxytocin bonding pathway, so that just by making eye contact, or [by] playing and hugging our dog, the oxytocin in both us and our dog goes up. This is why dogs are wonderful in any kind of stressful situation.’’
The belief in the healing power of dogs on humans is not new, however. In Ancient Egypt, it was believed that a dog’s lick could heal wounds and sores. And this isn’t completely unfounded. A dog’s saliva contains both antibacterial and antiviral substances, and growth factors that could quicken the healing process.
In modern times, several studies have been conducted to prove a definitive link between dogs and good health. A study done on 240 married couples found lower heart rates and blood pressure amongst those who had pets, compared to those who didn’t.
There’s also the obvious link between having a pet and physical exercise. Studies have shown that dog owners are less likely to be obese, since they are regularly active while walking their dogs.
More and more, dogs are also being used as therapy animals. Studies have shown that having a therapy dog can help veterans suffering from PTSD, and even lower college drop-out rates by helping students feeling homesick and lonely.
So while having a dog can sometimes be stressful, when they get sick or misbehave, the benefits are undeniable.
“Dogs are just like kids: They can be the sources of enormous joy and enormous worry,” said Hare, a father of two children and two dogs.
“But overall, despite the worry and pain, most dog owners I know, including me, would say that there is overwhelming benefit.”