Puppy love: Neuroscientific evidence shows that love between a dog and their human is a real thing

Puppy love: Neuroscientific evidence shows that love between a dog and their human is a real thing

It’s true – puppies really do fix everything! Well, maybe not everything – but there is recent scientific evidence that gazing into your dogs eyes is like having a big cuddle.

Actually the study concluded that its “findings support the existence of an inter-species oxytocin-mediated positive loop facilitated and modulated by gazing, which may have supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding by engaging common modes of communicating social attachment”.¹  Which we’re interpreting as basically just a fancy sciencey way of saying the same thing as puppies fix everything.

Oxytocin is a hormone that operates as a neurotransmitter. Of course how oxytocin actually works in the body and what effect it has is very complex and not fully known – but it is known that it is important in creating social bonds and positive pleasant emotions around social relationships. Neuroscientists would shudder at the description, but it is often called the “love hormone” or the “cuddle hormone”.

In the study, dogs and their humans were observed interacting for 30 minutes. It found that the levels of oxytocin in owners and dogs who spent the most time gazing at each other increased notably from the interaction. In other words – just by looking at each other there was a physical response in both the humans and the dogs which made them feel more bonded and all the other lovely emotions and feelings of love that oxytocin triggers.

There is a growing body of evidence on the benefits of pets to people’s mental health.² Does this mean GPs will start prescribing puppies? It actually might not be as silly as it sounds. Our approach at Bilantia is that there is not One Approach – it is all about working out what supports the good mental health of each unique individual. And for some people a dog (or other pet) could actually be an important factor in supporting their mental health and managing their stress.

The photos in this article are of Alfie the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Alfie is currently in training to become the Lead Dog Therapy Consultant at Bilantia. Once he nails his training in Sit Stay and Pet Therapy Strategy Development (he’s doing well on both, although needs to do a bit more work on his SWOT analysis), we have plans to introduce a Bilantia Canine Stress Management service. Stay tuned for developments.

If you would like support to work out whether a puppy could be the change you need to improve your mental health and help you to better manage your stress we would be delighted to support to you to do this. Click here to see the services Becks Depression Inventorythat we can help you with. Please reach out and call us on 0798 480 5351 or email us at info@bilantia.com. We have consulting rooms in Brighton and London and consult online to anywhere in the world.

Nicole Shinnick is the Founder, Managing Director and a Lead Consultant at Bilantia. She is a Certified Mindfulness Based Awareness Coach and currently completing a Master of Science, Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health at King’s College London. She has recently and unexpectedly become A Dog Person.

¹ Miho Nagasaki, Shouhei Mitsui, Shiri En, Nobuyo Ohtan, Mitsuki Ohta, Yasuo Sakuma, Tatsushi Onaka, Kazutaka Mogi, Takefumi Kikusui. “Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds”. Science  17 Apr 2015. Vol. 348, Issue 6232, pp. 333-336
² See for example:
Andreas O.M. Hoffmann, Ah Hyung Lee, Florian Wertenauer, Roland Ricken, Joanna J. Jansen, Juergen Gallinat, Undine E. Lang. “Dog-assisted intervention significantly reduces anxiety in hospitalized patients with major depression”. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, Volume 1, Issue 3, Pages 145-148.
Undine E. Lang, Joanna B. Jansen, Florian Wertenauer, Juergen Gallinat, Michael A. Rapp. “Reduced anxiety during dog assisted interviews in acute schizophrenic patients”. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, Volume 2, Issue 3, Pages 123-127.
NilüferAydina, Joachim I.Krueger, JuliaFischer, DanaHahn, Andreas Kastenmüller, DieterFrey & PeterFischer. “Man’s best friend:” How the presence of a dog reduces mental distress after social exclusion “. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.Volume 48, Issue 1,  January 2012, Pages 446-449.