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Today: May 24, 2024

Could a dog be nature's best antidepressant?

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LA Post: Could a dog be nature's best antidepressant?
April 10, 2024
Sowjanya P - LA Post

There's nothing quite like the joy of a wagging tail to instantly brighten your day. As life grows hectic and at times stressful, our four-legged companions may hold the key to a happier, more fulfilling existence. Research shows a multitude of mental health benefits associated with playing with dogs, from reducing anxiety and loneliness to boosting self-esteem and overall life satisfaction.

These furry bundles of unconditional love have an almost magical ability to melt away worry and bring an instant sense of tranquility with their affectionate nudges and calming presence. So if you're feeling down or overwhelmed, spending quality time with a pup might just be the perfect pick-me-up for improving your mood and reigniting your zest for life.

The research, published in a fancy science journal called Plos One, gathered 30 people between the ages of 20 and 40 to hang out and bond with the most adorable 4-year-old poodle you have ever seen. About half of the folks already had dogs at home, while the other half were sadly pup-less.

Each participant had fun doggy activities with their new fluffy friend for at least 3 minutes each. We’re talking about the full puppy pampering experience - petting, brushing that lush coat, playing fetch, feeding yummy treats, gentle massages, snuggling up for hugs, and even striking a pose for puppy photoshoots! Sounds like a total dream day at the doggy spa, right?

As the people went to town bonding and playing with the pooch, the brainy scientists kept a close eye on their brain waves and emotions using fancy technology. Those simple acts of canine camaraderie lit up the brain’s parts linked to feeling relaxed, emotionally balanced, focused, creative, and happy-go-lucky!

The researchers summed it up nicely: “Dog activities like playing, walking, massaging, and grooming boost brain activity for stronger relaxation, emotional stability, attention, concentration, and creativity.” They added that “dog interactions reduce stress and spark positive feel-good vibes.”

Well, 30 people isn’t exactly a massive sample size. But don’t write off these tail-wagging results just yet! They seem to back up what dog enthusiasts everywhere have been howling about for years—our furry besties are legitimate four-legged therapists wrapped in an irresistibly cuddly, tail-wagging package.

The special human-animal bond and all the amazing pet therapy benefits that come packaged with it? It’s some seriously legit stuff, pups! Just ask Susan Burrows from Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy what she told the Good Morning America crew: “There’s less pain and anxiety when chilling with a pup, whether a working therapy dog or your beloved personal pet at home. Putting your arm around a dog or petting that soft fur can melt that stress away.” 

If you are wondering what exactly it is about our canine confidants that flip the switch from burnout to aww-inducing levels of chill, well, according to some researchers, there could be a few key factors.

For one, a pup’s unpredictable antics and adorable quirks help keep our brains engaged and present in the moment instead of stressing over the past or obsessing about the future. That novelty and spontaneity are like a little pick-me-up for our easily distracted human minds!

And then there's the amazing multi-sensory experience of connecting with a puppy: touching that soft, fluffy fur, looking into those huge, expressive puppy-dog eyes that just make you feel warm inside, and even noticing those unique doggie scents! Whether you believe it or not, all those sights, sounds, scents, and textures appear to stimulate the release of positive hormones in our brains, such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.

But it probably goes even deeper than just cool sensations and distracted brains. Humans are highly social creatures, and our dogs have evolved alongside us over thousands of years to form super tight emotional bonds. That unconditional love, loyalty, trust, and companionship we get from our four-legged soulmates? It’s like food for the human spirit!

As the scientists put it, “Animal interaction activities like playtime, walks, massages, and grooming have positive effects by firing up feel-good brain activity in healthy people.” In other words, dogs genuinely “lower human stress and spark warm-fuzzy, positive emotional vibes.” 

While the specific study may have been small, the researchers are confident the results ring true. More wide-scale investigations are likely needed to fully understand all the fascinating neurological processes when humans bond with their furry friends. But one thing’s for sure—you don’t need to be an animal therapist to reap the mental health benefits of a little puppy love!

So, if you’ve been feeling a bit ruff, anxious, stressed to the pits, or just stuck in an overall emotional rut, don’t underestimate the power of a solid pup pick-me-up! Whether you’re romping around at the dog park, cuddling up on the couch for a Netflix binge, brushing that silky coat, or simply gazing into those adoring eyes, a little lick of puppy love could be all you need. Yes, it’s because dogs improve mood and spark those happy-making brainwaves.

And hey, your puppy will be soaking up all that extra love and attention, too! After all, strengthening one of life’s most precious bonds - the unique human-animal connection - is a surefire way to nurture your mental health while giving your canine BFF the affection they deserve.

So don’t be afraid to lean on your four-legged therapist next time you need an emotional boost. Whether a quick 15-minute pup snuggle or an all-day adventure, make time for dog interactions and let those warm fuzzies take over. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you... and so will your tail-wagging best friend!

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  2. The Risks of Letting Dogs Lick Your Face and Sleep in Your Bed
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