Give a dog a cuddle! No, this is not because I’m a dog lover. There’s real science behind the brain building power of spending time with a dog. It’s all about the chemicals. That’s right; there’s just something about dogs that gives us a chemical rush!
Dogs and humans have been forging a friendship for over 40,000 years; their relationship cemented by mutual need, companionship and survival. That’s our survival, not theirs. The partnership forged many years ago between a dog and its man, marked a large evolutionary step in humanities ability to access high quality food and shelter. With the dog’s assistance, man experienced a new level of safety, and food gathering success. It was a relationship born out of necessity and wisdom, but is a friendship that lasts today, out of great love.
How did we get to this place? How is it that just by being around dogs, people feel better?
Oxytocin is a hormone we are most familiar with in relation to childbirth. It’s produced in a cluster of nerve cells called the hypothalamus, and acts on the uterus to produce labour contractions. It also causes spasms that release breast milk.
Its effects though are felt in more ways than reproduction. Oxytocin actually stimulates changes in the brain to prepare a mother for attachment to offspring. It has a calming affect and is instrumental in the development and formation of social bonds. It also signals the release of dopamine a neurotransmitter thought to improve nerve conduction and the transmission of messages between brain regions.
What this means, is that with the release of oxytocin, not only are we calmer, but our brains are more receptive to positive interactions within a social group, our stress level drops and with it our heart rate and blood pressure. Plus, there’s an increase in feel good neurotransmitters: serotonin, beta endorphins and dopamine. What does this have to do with dogs?
A lot! And dog lovers know the answer to that question already. When you’re around dogs you feel good. Why? Oxytocin. Scientists have found that when people are around dogs…okay it’s really around any pet, I just happen to have a special leaning towards dogs, oxytocin in released. What’s interesting, is that it isn’t just humans getting this chemical boost of nurturing hormone, dogs get it too. It’s a mutual chemical rush!
Note: If you don’t have a pet, don’t worry. You can simulate the feel good sensation of oxytocin by watching videos of puppies.
Want to know more? Check out Made for Each Other by Meg Daley Olmert
Check out these videos for a simulated high!