According to recent statistics, over a third (33%) of British households own a dog, and anyone who has a furry friend in their life knows how much comfort and joy they can bring.
But how do dogs really boost our mood? Dog-friendly holiday lettings specialist Canine Cottages has worked with Sarah-Jane White, animal behaviourist at Ruffle Snuffle and Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Pharmacy to reveal all about how dogs can help boost our mood; from how we are affected by spending time with four-legged friends, how dogs are impacted by spending time with us, and the science behind human and dog interactions.
How are human moods affected by spending time with dogs?
It’s no surprise that dogs make us happy! And according to recent research, 51% of dog owners said their pooch makes them happy, 47% said that their dog provided love and affection, and 35% said the dog was a source of companionship.
As Dr Lee says: “spending time with pets has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. Dogs can lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. They also help combat loneliness which is now a major recognised risk factor for heart disease.”
And as Sarah-Jane continues, “dogs are great at providing us with companionship. They’re always happy to see us, no matter what kind of day we’re having. They also encourage us to get outside and exercise, which is great for our physical and emotional health. They help us to bond with others and reduce stress levels.
“Not only do dogs increase our physical health by encouraging us to get active; they also support emotional wellness too. They also provide an opportunity to take time out of our busy days and appreciate all the simple things in life—an excellent way to boost mood no matter what kind of day it has been!”
How are dogs’ mood affected by spending time with humans?
But it’s not just us humans that are positively affected by spending time with dogs – their mood changes when spending time with us too! As Sarah-Jane comments, “dogs will naturally mimic the moods and emotions of those around them. For example, if your dog sees you laughing, chances are that he or she will start to get happy too. Dogs are also excellent at reading our body language. If you’re crying, your dog will know that something is wrong and will try to comfort you by nuzzling up against you or licking your tears away.
“Just like humans, dogs can be affected by depression, anxiety and fears too. It’s normal for some pets to become more clingy than usual while others might retreat to their own space during times of crisis in an unhappy human home.”
And as Dr Lee confirms, “dogs are very perceptive and show a great deal of empathy with human emotions – known as emotional contagion. If their owners show distress and burst into tears, the dog often responds by jumping up, nuzzling, and licking the owner in sympathy. These observations lead animal psychologists to believe dogs can tune in to human emotions.
“Observations of dog behaviour also show that dogs read the expressions on human faces. They watch our eyes very closely, following the direction of gaze to help them judge a situation. They can cleverly recognise facial features, as they still recognise their owner irrespective of hair colour, scarves, hats, and makeup. They are also, of course, highly sensitive to their owner’s voice and commands, which convey feelings and emotions.”
Are there any scientific/hormonal changes when we spend time with dogs?
It’s not just our moods that change when spending time with dogs, there is a science behind it too. Dogs can sense oxytocin, which is the ‘love’ or ‘feel good hormone’ you release when interacting with something that makes you happy. In fact, in our recent study, we found that when we told dogs we love them, their heart rate increases by +46%!
Sarah-Jane continues: “dogs have been proven to decrease cortisol levels which help reduce anxiety, blood pressure levels and cardiovascular strain. Dogs decrease depressive symptoms such as unhappiness, feelings of worthlessness and insomnia. Dogs increase oxytocin levels, which also increases optimism, self-esteem, and the ability to handle stress.
And as Dr Lee says: “research has shown that when we spend time with dogs, this has beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk. In a 2017 study, over three million participants who had no risk factors for cardiovascular disease were followed up for 12 years. The dog owners were found to have a 33% reduction in the risk of dying, and a 17% reduction in the development of cardiovascular disease, compared to those who did not own a dog. Dogs can also lower stress levels, blood levels and anxiety too.”
Commenting, Shannon Keary, Digital PR Manager at Canine Cottages, explains, “Dogs are naturally loving, trusting creatures and make excellent companions too. Anyone who has a dog knows how much comfort they can bring, but it’s interesting to see the science behind dog and human interactions, and how our moods and bodies are affected by spending time with one another. If anything, it’s great to see confirmation on how special a dog and owner bond really is!”
To find out more about boosting your dog’s mood and help make them feel extra special, please visit: https://www.caninecottages.co.uk/blog/pampered-pooch