Why petting a dog can make you happy

Why petting a dog can make you happy

It feels good to spend time with our pets — and scientists have discovered one reason why. Interacting with a dog supercharges activity in a certain part of the brain, giving us the same benefits as socialising with human friends.

In the Swiss study, participants had interactions with a six-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, a four-year-old Goldendoodle and a four-year-old Golden Retriever. They then interacted with a stuffed toy lion that was filled with a hot water bottle to match the temperature and weight of the dogs.

Results from a portable brain scanner showed that petting a dog leads to increasingly higher levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that helps regulate and process social and emotional interactions. What’s more, this effect persists after the dogs are no longer present.

Interacting with the toy animal stimulated less brain activity than interacting with the dogs, indicating that the response might be related to familiarity or social bonding.

It’s already known that interacting with animals, particularly dogs, can help people cope with stress and depression. Researchers think that a better understanding of the associated brain activity could help clinicians develop improved systems for animal-assisted therapy.

“Integrating animals into therapeutic interventions might be a promising approach for improving emotional involvement and attention,” the researchers said in a paper published in the journal PLOS One.

“If patients with deficits in motivation, attention and socioemotional functioning show higher emotional involvement in activities connected to a dog, then such activities could increase the chance of learning and of achieving therapeutic aims,” lead study author Rahel Marti from the University of Basel told CNN.

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