When mothers make eye contact with their babies, there is a release of oxytocin in the brain that encourages bonding to take place. When that connection takes place or bonding happens consistently, healthy emotional regulation in the infant also starts happening. Having healthy emotional regulation helps us become more emotionally intelligent. Healthy emotional regulation is when you have the ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. Inconsistent bonding correlates to environmental emotional health problems and mental health disorders.
1. Dogs help increase oxytocin in the brain, which is the chemical related to feeling love. Did you know that owning a dog can raise your levels of ‘feel good” feelings? Research suggests that dogs interact with us in a way that activates oxytocin in the brain. By doing so, we connect with dogs and think of them as family members or children.
Oxytocin is also known as the “love hormone.” These levels tend to surge when people engage in bonding activities such as friends laughing or a new mother breastfeeding. Oxytocin also surges when you are in the new stages of a relationship.
Yale University has been doing some research on the topic in regards to being around your pet. The studies show that the release of oxytocin occurs when you are around your dog. There is even a Canine Cognition Center at Yale actively taking part in more of these studies.
So, if you are feeling “in love” with your pet, it is not silly or something to be made fun of. The brain is letting you feel a connection as if your pet is a family member, friend or loved one. In 2014, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) looked at oxytocin in a different way. They found that rising oxytocin levels encourage dogs to bond with people AND other dogs.
For example, next time your pet wants to play with you, let’s say, in a game like “tug-of-war”, go for it! By playing with your dog for even three minutes, encourages the dog’s oxytocin levels to surge by 50 percent! In this way, they bond and feel connected by receiving affection which in turn lets the “love hormone” turn on. Your oxytocin levels and theirs get boosted!
2. More is going on here than just oxytocin being boosted though. Yes, increased oxytocin has been linked to the connection between human-dog interactions. Additionally, a study from Sweden found having a dog lends to decreasing your stress levels too. This study group found that dog owners’ heart rates decreased while playing with their dogs.
In addition, stress levels decreased too after play-time. In fact, an hour after owners stopped playing with their dogs the participants had their cortisol levels checked. Cortisol is the hormone associated with stress and anxiety. What they found was astonishing! The participants’ cortisol levels decreased by an average of about 22%.
3. Dogs can decrease depression symptoms. One South African study looked at elderly residents in a long-term facility. This study found that spending thirty minutes per week with a dog as a companion lowered anxiety level by 24 percent and depression by 40 percent. Other studies have found similar information related to college students and cancer patients.
Some of the major research related to this topic comes from the study of post-traumatic stress disorder and military veterans. One study from Purdue University in 2018, explains that veterans who own a service animal experience fewer PTSD-related symptoms than those who do not own a service animal. The research shows that anxiety and depression decreased in these individuals. Furthermore, they were more likely to leave their homes and engage in society. Depressed people typically do not like to leave their homes, especially to socialize!
It comes down to one thing here: Dogs are affecting the moods of individuals on a neurochemical level.
4. Dogs are one of the most devotional animals. When it comes down to it, they can be one of your greatest companions and bearers of unconditional love. They tend to be the best friend you might have always wanted. Dogs just want to be around their owners.
5. We can learn tidbits about self-care from dogs. For example, your dog might love to sleep and rest. We can take a lesson from this because proper sleep and rest are imperative for healthy cognitive function, stress levels, and routine.
6. Dogs also enjoy playing. We can benefit from having hobbies and taking time to laugh and play or breaking the norm of everyday life. It is a great way to reflect on how being engaged in play and in the moment allows us to feel happier. We feel this way due to a boost in the neurotransmitter dopamine.
7. Dogs truly enjoy giving and getting love, whether that is in the form of strokes, petting or hugs. Humans can benefit from affection and touch. It has been proven that not only are we social but our happiness levels increase when we are given hugs.
If you are someone who struggles with stress, depression, anxiety or other illnesses, you might want to consider owning a pet. Dogs and other pets alike can be a form of therapy! These researchers have found that they boost the “feel-good” feelings and decrease stress, so why not?!
So, go ahead and get a dog, one that you can love and have for its entire life. You can learn how to run around, exercise or play with the dog. In return, you can get boosts of oxytocin, adrenaline and a release of dopamine. Those are all the neuro-chemicals involved in a happier, healthier lifestyle and in healthy doses, so why not?
(Keep in mind that the bond between you and your dog may develop strongly. Dogs tend to get anxious or depressed when their owners are not around. It is important to take care of your dog in a committed way as it is a living, breathing animal. By taking responsibility and learning new ways to care for your pet’s hygiene, diet, and health, you become a committed dog-owner.)