You’ve heard that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a dog is man’s best friend. But what you may not know about these furry companions are the ways in which dogs can boost your mood and make life more enjoyable.
Dogs don’t just provide companionship, they also help humans cope with stress, depression and loneliness by providing unconditional love and support. And while it might take time to build up this sense of trust between person and pup, once established the connection will last for years to come. Scientific studies show that when we spend time around our four-legged friends there are some pretty significant changes in our hormones including serotonin levels (increases), oxytocin levels (increases), dopamine levels (increases), and cortisol levels (decrease).
According to recent statistics1, 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 our moods 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?
Moods are everything. They make or break our day. They can determine how productive we are, how we interact with others, and how we feel about ourselves. It’s no wonder then that spending time with dogs can have such a profound effect on our moods.
For starters, dogs are great at providing us with companionship. They’re always happy to see us, no matter what kind of day we’re having, and they never judge us. They’re the perfect friend to have by our side when we need someone to just listen to us ramble on about our problems. Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling up their lives with warmth and love. I found this when I rescued my greyhound, Teddy. In reality, he chose me.
It’s no surprise that dogs make us happy! And according to recent stats2, 51% said of dog owners said their dog makes them happy, 47% said that the 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 exercise; they also support emotional wellness too. Whether their tails are wagging or they’re playing with their favorite toy, dogs remind us that there’s still beauty in life. 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!”
On the flip side of that equation, if your pup is feeling anxious or low energy then they will likely pass on their feelings onto you. So if your pooch tends to be stressed by loud noises like fireworks and thunderstorms, for instance, hearing these sounds will make your pooch anxious which in turn will make you more on edge.
Dogs also have a very strong instinct to protect those they admire and love, so if you’re having one of those “I feel like the worst mummy ever” days, a kiss from your pup can go a long way towards boosting your self-esteem and confidence!
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 ins 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 a dog that makes you happy. In fact, in our recent study3, we found that when we told dogs we love them, their heart 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 study4, over 3 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 its 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!”
Overall, I believe that spending time with a dog can have a positive effect on our moods. Dogs have a strong instinct to protect those they love, and their companionship can provide us with emotional support and happiness. They also encourage us to get exercise, which is beneficial for our physical and emotional health. In addition, dogs help us to bond with others and reduce stress levels.
Having a dog in your life is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Dogs provide us with companionship that makes our lives more enjoyable and fulfilling.
There are so many benefits to having a dog in your life. Whether they are humans’ best friends or our fur babies, dogs have so many wonderful traits that can improve our lives! Being mindful of their needs around us is extremely crucial as well. If we understand the effect emotions have on dogs when they spend time with us, then perhaps we can avoid being a source of stress and do right by our furry companions. – Sarah-Jane.
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- Data according to Statista
- Data according to Statista
- Stats according to Canine Cottages’ Doggy Devotion campaign
- Stats taken from this study