With everything going on in the world, a lot of us are experiencing higher levels of anxiety, stress and even depression. That is totally understandable when a lot of us are stuck at home, not sure of when life will be back to normal. What if we told you there was a scientifically proven way to lower our stress, anxiety, and just make us feel more happy. Well it turns out there is, and it may be sitting right next to you.
It is no secret that we love our dogs and consider them an integral part of the family, but do they have health benefits as well? Most of us have experienced this phenomenon. How many times have you come home from a hard stressful day and the sight of your dog, wagging away, just absolutely thrilled to see you, and all that stress just melts away as you pat your best friend. We have all experienced that feeling or something close to it, but how many of us have really taken the time to think why? Is it just the feeling of being loved unconditionally? After all, one of the most common reasons people give when asked why we love dogs so much, is that unconditional love we receive from them. Turns out there is a very measurable science to that love we feel that goes hand in hand with all the emotional changes we feel when we pat, hug or kiss our dogs.
Though there are still some mysteries as to our deep connection to our dogs, there have been several studies done on the subject and we are learning more about it all the time. Most of these studies have zeroed in on one thing, and that is Oxytocin. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “Love Hormone” and is linked with love and connection building. It is often best known as the hormone that causes such a strong bond between mother and child during breastfeeding. (1) It has also been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety and even improve our immune system! (2) So what does all of this have to do with our relationships with dogs?
Well it turns out that scientific studies have shown that the only relationship we have as humans that releases oxytocin in near the same levels as interacting with a parent’s baby, is the relationship we have with our dogs.(3) In fact our oxytocin levels can double just by patting our dogs. (2) Even more, people who have especially strong relationships only need to look at their dogs to get that boost. (3)
So when you are sitting there, staring at your dog while they are curled up in a tiny ball with their tail covering their nose and a powerful sense of love and caring washes over you, that is oxytocin at work! When you come home from a stressful day and your dog is waiting there for you, tail wagging and you forget about what was bothering you, that is Oxytocin at work! When you are feeling anxious about what you have ahead of you and you reach over to pat or hug your dog and that anxiety starts to melt away, that is oxytocin at work. It works the same for our dogs too!
The same study that showed us that all we had to do was gaze at our dogs, also measured the levels of oxytocin in those dogs. They found that the dogs that gazed at their owners for longer stretches of time had higher levels of oxytocin than the dogs who barely interacted with their owners. (3) Other studies have also shown that our dog’s levels rise in a very similar way to ours when we pat them. (2) So that relationship we have and the love we feel towards our dogs is a very real and measurable thing and next time you look over at your dog and their features get all squished and they give you a nice little stretch and a tail flick, they are feeling the same way.