Can patting your dog make you more sociable?

Dog behaviour, dogs -

Can patting your dog make you more sociable?

Last week we were interested to read about a new study that focused on the benefits of patting your dog. According to researchers, patting, stroking and even just watching your dog – and other people’s dogs – can make you more sociable and help reduce stress too.

If you already own a dog or you are a dog lover you may already have an inkling that this was the case anyway. Dogs are often used in animal-assisted clinical therapy and have been proven (anecdotally) to help people through depression, loneliness or stressful times in their lives. But now it is official. Scientists confirmed that patting, touching or watching a dog can boost the neurons in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain that regulates our emotional interactions. By researching this phenomenon, it is hoped that these findings can be used to develop treatments or assist people who need a social or emotional boost. 

Speaking about the study, which was published in the journal PLOS One, lead author Rahel Marti, of the University of Basel, Switzerland, said:

“The present study demonstrates prefrontal brain activity in healthy subjects increased with a rise in interactional closeness with a dog or a stuffed animal, but especially in contact with the dog the activation is stronger.

“This indicates that interactions with a dog might activate more attentional processes and elicit stronger emotional arousal than comparable non-living stimuli.”

Dog hug photo by Alana Sousa on PexelsDog hug photo by Alana Sousa on Pexels

How did they do it? Activity in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain was measured using neuro imaging technology with a sample of 19 participants. Each one wore a skull cap, comprised of sensors that shone infra-red light into their brain as they viewed a dog, reclined with it against their legs or patted it. 

Each experiment was also performed with Leo, a stuffed lion (surely they should have used a stuffed dog? I always find myself questioning the rigorousness of these scientific methods). Leo contained a hot water bottle so that he matched the temperature and weight of the dogs, and the researchers studied the participants to find out how their reactions differed to Leo, rather than the real live furry animals. 

They found that people experienced more pre-frontal brain activity when they interacted with real dogs, with the largest difference seen when the participants were patting the dogs – probably because this is more interactive and they were receiving some sort of response from the dog which further stimulated their emotions or brain activity.

They also discovered that this activity increased when someone interacted with the same dog over time – perhaps as they formed a relationship with the dog, suggesting this could also be a crucial factor when examining the benefits and potential uses of these kind of interactions, as related to familiarity or social bonding.

Happy retriever photo by Rosemary Ketchum on PexelsHappy retriever photo by Rosemary Ketchum on Pexels

Marti suggests that this kind of response could be clinically relevant for patients with deficits in motivation, attention and socio-emotional functioning:

“Integrating animals into therapeutic interventions might therefore be a promising approach for improving emotional involvement and attention.”

Benefits to mental health

Again many of us already know how much our beloved pets benefitted our mental health during the pandemic, but this also been backed up by science too. 

In a study focused on pets and the pandemic, York University surveyed almost 6,000 people of whom, nearly 90% reported that their pets had helped them to cope better emotionally during lockdown in the UK. (I always wonder what was going on with the other 10% though?). 

Licky dog photo by Bin Ziegler on PexelsLicky dog photo by Bin Ziegler on Pexels

Sniffing out stress

New research from Queen’s University Belfast has also revealed that dogs can sniff out the scent of stress, which could also be useful when working out who needs a hug from a dog the most today!

Does your dog make you feel better? Or are you one of the 10% who felt little or no benefit from being locked down with your pet! As always, let us know your views in the comments section below!

Main photo by Almada Studio on Pexels

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