It's official: Stroking dogs improves our mental health

young woman cuddles her 12 week old golden retriever puppy
Stroking dogs improves our mental healthCatherine Falls Commercial - Getty Images

Throughout the history of dog domestication, humans have shared a deep bond with their four-legged companions. More than just a (wo)man's best friend, dogs display an ability to recognise and respond to human sentiments and are capable of forming strong emotional bonds with their owners, much like the relationship between children and their parents.

Researchers are now starting to acknowledge the therapeutic benefits of our relationship with pets, particularly dogs. And you don't even have to own one to reap them!

A study from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, reveals that canines can understand how humans feel, which in turn helps them predict our behaviour and influences their decision-making. According to insight from Smriti Joshi, Chief Psychologist at Wysa, 'Even interacting with other people's dogs can have health benefits and reduce the stress hormone cortisol.

'Interacting with dogs can help lower stress and anxiety levels. Pups can help relieve tension by providing a sense of calm, distracting you from nervous thoughts, and helping you stay immersed in the present.

'Researchers at Washington State University have found that petting a dog or cat can relieve stress in just 10 minutes, but even if you only have a few seconds, it's worth stroking your nearest furry friend.’

young woman cuddles her 12 week old golden retriever puppy
Catherine Falls Commercial - Getty Images

The benefits of having a furry friend in your life range from higher survival rates to better physical and psychological well-being. Lowri Dowthwaite, senior lecturer in psychological interventions at the University of Central Lancashire told Women’s Health, 'It's well-established that bonds between humans and animals have a positive impact on both physical and mental well-being, with evidence suggesting that petting an animal can trigger biochemical changes in the body. This includes the release of feel-good hormones in the brain and reduced levels of stress hormones.’

And it's not just humans that benefit, but dogs do too. Dog whisperer Yasmin El-Saie said, 'Oxytocin, A.K.A the love hormone, plays a crucial role in social bonding and connection.

‘When humans and dogs interact through petting or play, both person and pooch get an increase in oxytocin levels which creates a special bond of affection and connection. Just like us humans, dogs are a social species and live according to their pack rules - their pack being their household. As owners, we can use our body language to communicate with our dogs to guide and support them and give them purpose within the pack.'

Of course, not everyone has the same temperament or love for pooches, but for animal lovers who share a special connection with their dogs, they're not just adorable but can make a big impact on your well-being.

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