What does petting a dog do for you? Expert Advice

Why does petting a dog relieve stress?

If youre a dog owner, you’ll already know how soothing it is to stroke your pet.

Now university scientists have backed you up with research into the physiological effects of petting a dog.

Their study involved 249 students, who were all given 10 minutes petting and playing with dogs.

The study measured the amount of cortisol – the so-called stress hormone – in study participants saliva.

It found that cortisol levels dropped dramatically after the students had interacted with the animals – even among those who had very high or low levels to begin with.

Professor Patricia Pendry, who led the research, said: “We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions.

“What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way, which it did.

“This is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health.”

“This is an interesting, rigorously conducted study that provides new insight into associations between human-animal interaction and regional prefrontal brain activity in healthy adults,” said Dr. Tiffany Braley, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who has published research on the connection between pet ownership and cognitive health.

“Although further work in larger samples of people with specific neurological conditions is needed, the current study could inform future research of animal-assisted interventions for neurorehabilitation by providing new data regarding the type, intensity, and frequency of animal interactions necessary to achieve desired physiological or clinical benefits,” said Braley, who was not involved in the new research.

“We chose to investigate the frontal cortex because this brain area is involved in several executive functions, such as attention, working memory, and problem-solving. But it is also involved in social and emotional processes,” said study lead author Rahel Marti, a doctoral student in the division of clinical psychology and animal-assisted interventions at the University of Basel in Switzerland, in an email.

The study team fitted each of 19 participants with the scanner and asked them to observe and interact with one of three live dogs: a Jack Russell terrier, a goldendoodle and a golden retriever. First, study participants watched the dog from across the room. Then the dog sat next to them. Finally, each person was allowed to pet the dog. This process occurred twice more at later dates.

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What Happens To Your Brain When You Pet a Dog? | The Dodo

Its true. Spending quality time with a dog, cat or other animal can have a positive impact on your mood and your health. Pets can be calming stress-fighters.

“We found that pet owners, on average, were better off than non-owners, especially when they have a higher-quality relationship with their pets,” says pet researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD. Hes a professor of psychology at Miami University. “What [makes] a meaningful relationship varies from person to person.”

For some active people, that includes playing ball or Frisbee in the park. For others who can’t get outside, just petting your dog can help you feel connected.

Your dog may make you less likely to get heart disease. Why? Dog owners walk more and have lower blood pressure than people who dont have dogs.

Heart attack survivors and people with serious abnormal heart rhythms who own dogs live longer than people with the same heart problems who dont have pets, studies show.

Petting your cat or dog feels good. It can lower your blood pressure, helps your body release a relaxation hormone, and cuts down on levels of a stress hormone.

It also soothes your pet, says Alan Beck, ScD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University.

“If I saw you walking down the street, I couldnt comfortably start talking to you if I didnt know you, but I could if you had a dog,” Beck says. “Its an acceptable interaction that otherwise wouldnt be possible.”

People who use wheelchairs say that other people make eye contact with them more often and ask if they can be of help when theyre with their dogs, Beck says.

People with pets are generally happier, more trusting, and less lonely than those who dont have pets. They also visit the doctor less often for minor problems.

One reason for that may be that your pet gives you a sense of belonging and meaning, McConnell says. “You feel like you have greater control of your life.”