Petting other people’s dogs, even briefly, can boost your health

Brief interactions with dogs, even those that are not your own, can have a positive effect on your health.

The science behind it: Even short interactions with dogs can decrease cortisol levels, the stress hormone, in humans and increase levels of oxytocin, a bonding hormone.
* Professor of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Nancy Gee, affirms that animals contribute positively to both mental and physical health.
* Research indicates that these hormone changes aren’t limited to humans: the same changes are seen in dogs after interaction with a human.

Downsides and limitations: While there are many benefits, interacting with dogs isn’t a perfect solution for everyone.
* Not everyone is comfortable around animals and some may be allergic, explains Gee.
* Studies show positive links between dog ownership and aspects like heart health and physical activity, but Gee acknowledges the evidence is mixed due to differences in methodology and challenges in establishing cause and effect.

In the classroom: Interaction with dogs can lead to less stress and improved cognitive processes in children.
* One study involving short, bi-weekly interactions with dogs in a UK classroom led to the reduction of stress and improved executive function in 8 and 9-year-old students.
* These benefits were observable not only shortly after interaction with the dogs but also remained even a month after the study, with some evidence of existence up to six months later.

The dog’s perspective: Dogs have developed ways to connect and interact with human beings.
* Dogs live in the moment, inspiring humans to also be more present—an aspect that Associate Professor Megan Mueller of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine says cues humans into paying more attention to their environment.
* Mueller’s research indicates that the act of physically touching a dog may play a significant part in their calming effect on humans.

Evolutionary bond: Domesticated dogs have developed an ability to connect with humans over thousands of years.
* According to Gee, dogs have an “unassuming” way of connecting without verbal communication, resonating with humans on a deeper level.

View original article on NPR

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