Dogs improve our human experience.
They do it in so many ways, and it’s only when you spend time with these marvellous animals that you discover how much they have the ability to lift us up and improve our wellbeing.
And let’s face it, we could all do with a lift in today’s world!
But why do they lift us up?
What is it about spending times in the company of a dog that brings a sense of calm, acceptance, presence, and contentment?
Well, there have been a number of major studies over the years, and indeed in recent months, into the health benefits of pets and the human-animal interaction.
And all results have shown that dogs positively affect our mental and physical health.
Okay, so it’s easy to understand the physical side of things. Taking them out for a walk at least once a day not only allows them to run off some energy, it gets you moving. And for the more sedentary peeps amongst us, this can help maintain a healthy weight (or help you lose any excess weight) and the cardio aspect is also beneficial for your heart and lungs.
But from a mental health point of view, how does your dog make a positive impact there?
The studies have shown that a companion animal, usually a dog but it could be a cat or something else, ease loneliness, depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and more.
In fact, for a number of years dogs have been used in therapy with war veterans, people with disabilities, in prisons, in psychiatric hospitals, and in retirement homes. With the shift in mental states of the people dogs have interacted with being dramatic, and even extraordinary in some cases.
So what is the link between dogs and human wellbeing?
This is where it gets a bit sciency…
Physiological changes happen in us and the dog when we spend time together that affect our blood pressure, heart rate, and crucially our hormones that are linked with well-being such as cortisol, oxytocin, and dopamine.
These three hormones play a big part in how we feel on a moment by moment basis.
Cortisol is our bodies stress hormone, best known as the fuel in our ‘fight or flight’ instinct. When hanging out with our beloved pooch, cortisol levels decrease which means we become calmer.
Oxytocin, also been referred to as the ‘love hormone’. This is the hormone that gets released when we’re in the company of those we have a strong (positive) emotional connection with.
It also brings a sense of calm by helping reduce blood pressure and inhibiting cortisol from being released. Studies show that the human-animal interaction increases oxytocin levels in the brain and thereby creates a sense of calm and comfort.
Dopamine is called our chemical messenger. It’s the signal transmitter between nerve cells. When released dopamine creates feelings of pleasure and joy (contrasting with low levels of dopamine, which have been linked to a feeling of lacking in motivation and enthusiasm for life).
Being around our furry friends naturally increases our level of dopamine which releases this sense of pleasure, lifting our mood and bringing us joy.
So you see, our dog and our wellbeing are intrinsically linked.
Physically, through the exercise they need which we give. And mentally, through the release of feel-good hormones when in their company.
What other ways does your beloved pooch improve your wellbeing?