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All You Need is Love (and a Dog!)

By September 2, 2015 No Comments

They Call it Puppy Love…We Just Call it LOVE

By Dawn Todd

Yesterday our lovely client Betty told me, “No one loves their dog more than I love my Honeybun!” I immediately responded…. “You’ve got some competition, I reallylove my Caesar!” This exchange reminds me that there are two “camps” when it comes to the question of whether our pets really love us. Camp 1 believes unequivocally that pets are furry family, we love them and they love us right back. Camp 2 is exemplified by my brother in-law, who once told me… “If you wanted to write a book about how to get your cat to love you, it would be a really short book with just two words….’FEED THEM!'”

In the Todd home, we’re solidly in the first camp. In fact, Dr. Todd is never jealous of handsome men who come around. Oh no, he sees himself directly in competition with the four pound ball of joy we call “The Emperor Caesar,” or sometimes “Boo-Boo.” I have to be very careful when I get home not to rush first to “Boo-Boo” and start my incessant baby talk… “Who do I love?”…”How was your day Boo-Boo?”…”Should we get some dinner you beautiful little boy?”… You get the point.

It’s not just the way we treat our own companion animals that puts the Todds solidly in the first camp – look at the business we’re in. All day long we help a stream of humans who visit our hospital. They’re as committed to their four legged family as they are to their two legged family. We share in pet owners’ joy when we’re able to treat an illness, save a life, or prevent a problem with their beloved companions. We also bear witness to the anguish and sorrow that comes with the loss of a beloved companion.

But do those who believe dogs and cats are just “social parasites” have a point?  Are we just stooges, tricked into lifetime care of a different species who evolved alongside us just to mooch a meal and a sofa?

Thanks to groundbreaking research being done around the world, we’re finally getting the first glimpse into what happens inside a dog’s brain when he thinks of us, and scientists are shedding light on why exactly pets make us feel so good.

Science Unravels the Mysteries of Puppy Love

Dogs have a famous and extraordinary sense of smell. What happens when they get a whiff of us? Just the scent of a favorite human activates the pleasure region in a dog’s brain. Emory University has published fascinating results of dogs trained to lie completely still in a Functional MRI. Never before have we been able to observe the brain activity of an awake and alert canine. Now we know that canine brain “pleasure centers” light up when allowed to smell the scent of a human family member… proof that the irrational enthusiasm is not just that you’re holding dinner! Click here to see how it’s done. 

Have you ever fallen in love at first sight with a dog? Researchers in Japan have now measured oxytocin levels in both humans AND their dogs after sessions of gazing at each other. Oxytocin is often called the love hormone and it’s responsible for all manner of human bonding, lowering heart rate, stress hormones, and blood pressure. The longer the gaze, the higher oxytocin levels rose.  Learn more about this research by clicking here.

Why do we so enjoy petting our dogs and cats? In a South African study that included felines, men and women who spoke to and stroked their pet doubled their blood levels of oxytocin. Researchers also saw increases in endorphins and serotonin (other feel-good hormones). No wonder dogs and cats make such good therapists!

Take Away for Devoted Pet Parents

Try gazing – To relax and bond with your favorite pet, try making eye contact. Researchers in Japan defined a long gaze as 100 seconds in a five minute period. Remember to only practice this with dogs you have an existing relationship with…strange dogs might find this creepy…just like you would if a strange human were staring at you. 

Train daily to strengthen body and bond – Cats and dogs need physical and mental engagement each and every day. Bring your best friend to Noah’s Playground – a completely unique opportunity for canines to get lots of exercise, and form bonds with new humans and canine friends…exercising their body and mind. 

Pet your pets – Japanese researchers identified 40 stokes per minute as the ideal “pace” to maximum release of those feel good hormones.

Get out and socialize with your pets – Strengthen your bond with your favorite canine by bringing him or her to Yappy Hours!  Reduce your blood pressure and boost your endorphins by socializing with other super nice humans and dogs.The first Yappy Hour at the new Noah’s Playground is September 10 at 7:00 pm. People, pooches, pool, music and drinks…What could be more fun?

Check out Dognition – I love This clever website was developed by experts in canine cognition at Duke University. Click here to find tests and games you can play to learn more about what makes your favorite canine “tick.”

Take the test – Does your dog love you? Click here to watch this short video and let us know… who does your dog love?