Derek will confirm that I get excited when someone walks toward me with a dog. The animal’s tail begins to wag and my grin widens to match that energy. I always wait to find out whether it’s okay to visit with the dog, but I’m definitely ready for it. The human? It depends. The dog? Always.
Research shows that people get a boost in mood from briefly visiting with a dog, even if it’s not their own. All of those walk interruptions are good for my health!
Levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop in people after just 5 to 20 minutes spent interacting with dogs — even if it’s not their pet. Also, we see increases in oxytocin, that feel-good kind of bonding hormone. And it’s not just humans that benefit from these brief exchanges. “What I love about this research is that it’s a two-way street,” Dr. Gee says. “We see the same thing in the dogs, so the dog’s oxytocin also increases when they interact with a human.”NPR interview with Nancy Gee, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction
However, if you’re not a dog person, this doesn’t mean you should push that aside for a mood boost. But it is a comeback for a husband, say, who has to stop while his wife greets every canine that crosses her path. Not naming any names! Although we have Cuddles, our beloved cat, I’m still a dog person, too.
Animals live in the moment and they inspire us to do the same. The research was conducted on therapy dogs and people who met them. But encountering a dog on the street can bring the same result.
My late, great Border Collie Lee Roy had a nice temperament and we briefly considered making him a therapy dog at long-term care homes. Then we discovered he was unsuitable. He barked at anyone wearing a hat or walking with the help of a cane or walker. Can you imagine? He was the sweetest, mildest-mannered dog until he saw a ball cap or a cane. That’s 99% of men in LTC. Bringing in a dog that would terrorize them was the opposite of the goal.
But he was friendly to most folks and well liked. He would have loved to have a job. He enjoyed meeting people on our twice (and sometimes thrice) daily walks. As long as they were hatless, of course.
Dog owners want you to ask before you greet their pet. Some dogs aren’t great with people, or perhaps they’re only great with their own people. And if you’re not into it, that’s fine, too. But for those of us who drop to a crouch ten metres before reaching a dog, it’s nice to know its good for our health. But even if it wasn’t, I’d still do it.