Research shows that you only need 5 to 20 minutes of interaction with other people’s (friendly) dogs to reduce stress and boost your health.
There is now growing scientific evidence that our four-legged furry friends truly serve as quick little mood boosters for us, hoomans.
“I think it is safe to say that animals are beneficial to our mental and physical health,” Director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University and psychiatry professor Nancy Gee tells National Public Radio.
According to accumulating findings, human-dog contact increases the production of oxytocin (a.k.a the “love hormone”) while reducing the production of cortisol (a.k.a the primary stress hormone).
For example, in a randomized controlled trial that Gee collaborated in, she and her co-authors found that children, aged 8 to 9 years old, who had short interactions with dogs twice a week in the classroom, had less stress and improved focus to plan, stay on task, and block out any distractions.
Another example is a study conducted in Canada, with college students this time, showing that the students were also less stressed and had reduced feeling of homesickness even after brief interactions with dogs.
This further proves that when we pet dogs, even if they’re not our own pet, as briefly as five minutes, we become less stressed.
And it’s not just us! Gee says, “We see the same thing in the dogs, so the dogs’ oxytocin also increases when they interact with a human.”
Megan Mueller, an associate professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and whose research focuses on the psychology of human-animal relationships, tells National Public Radio that dogs evoke a feeling in us to see and experience the world through their eyes.
Mueller explains, “Animals, and dogs in particular, live in the moment. They’re experiencing their environment with wonder and awe all the time, and they’re not bringing up what happened to them earlier in the day or what they’re thinking about in the future. They’re there right now.”
Furthermore, Mueller is currently conducting a study that’s finding similar results to the one conducted in Canada. She says, “Some of the initial research has shown that physical touch might impact our nervous system in a way that’s beneficial.”
However, Gee pointed out that dogs “are not a panacea”. And the therapy dogs they used in their research were screened for attributes like friendliness, good behavior and responsiveness to their handler’s cues.
“They’re not necessarily going to be great for every single person. But for people who really get it, who really connect with the animals, they really can make a big difference,” Gee says.
More and more research on the health benefits of human-dog interactions have increased in recent years. And this is all thanks to the increased funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Waltham PetCare Science Institute.