Crufts: why do dogs and humans bond so well?
The sheer volume of dogs taking part in this year's Crufts is testimony to the special bond we have with 'man's best friend'.
More than 20,000 pooches are joining the world's most famous dog show in a variety of competitions and displays over four days at the NEC Birmingham from March 10 to 13.
Crufts also celebrates the many diverse roles that dogs play in our lives, and includes competitions such as The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award.
Anyone who has a dog in their life knows how much comfort and joy they can bring.
But how do dogs really boost our mood?
Dog-friendly holiday lettings specialist, Canine Cottages, has worked with Sarah-Jane White, animal behaviourist at Ruffle Snuffle, and Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Pharmacy to reveal how dogs can help boost our mood; from how we are affected by spending time with them to the science behind human and dog interactions.
How are human moods affected by spending time with dogs?
It’s no surprise that dogs make us happy.
According to recent research, 51 per cent of dog owners said their pooch makes them happy; 47 percent said that their dog provided love and affection; and 35 percent said the dog was a source of companionship.
“Spending time with pets has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health," said Deborah. "Dogs can lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. They also help combat loneliness which is now a major recognised risk factor for heart disease.”
Sarah-Jane added: “Dogs are great at providing us with companionship. They’re always happy to see us, no matter what kind of day we’re having.
"They also encourage us to get outside and exercise, which is great for our physical and emotional health. They help us to bond with others and reduce stress levels.
“Not only do dogs increase our physical health by encouraging us to get active; they also support emotional wellness too.
"They also provide an opportunity to take time out of our busy days and appreciate all the simple things in life - an excellent way to boost mood no matter what kind of day it has been.”
How are dogs’ mood affected by spending time with humans?
It’s not just us humans that are positively affected by spending time with dogs - their mood changes when spending time with us too.
“Dogs will naturally mimic the moods and emotions of those around them," said Sarah-Jane. "For example, if your dog sees you laughing, chances are that he or she will start to get happy too.
"Dogs are also excellent at reading our body language. If you’re crying, your dog will know that something is wrong and will try to comfort you by nuzzling up against you or licking your tears away.
“Just like humans, dogs can be affected by depression, anxiety and fears too. It’s normal for some pets to become more clingy than usual while others might retreat to their own space during times of crisis in an unhappy human home.”
Deborah added: “Dogs are very perceptive and show a great deal of empathy with human emotions - known as emotional contagion.
"If their owners show distress and burst into tears, the dog often responds by jumping up, nuzzling, and licking the owner in sympathy. These observations lead animal psychologists to believe dogs can tune in to human emotions.
“Observations of dog behaviour also show that dogs read the expressions on human faces. They watch our eyes very closely, following the direction of gaze to help them judge a situation.
"They can cleverly recognise facial features, as they still recognise their owner irrespective of hair colour, scarves, hats, and makeup. They are also, of course, highly sensitive to their owner’s voice and commands, which convey feelings and emotions.”
Are there any scientific/hormonal changes when we spend time with dogs?
It’s not just our moods that change when spending time with dogs, there is science behind it too.
Dogs can sense oxytocin, which is the ‘love’ or ‘feel good hormone’ you release when interacting with something that makes you happy.
“Dogs have been proven to decrease cortisol levels which help reduce anxiety, blood pressure levels and cardiovascular strain," said Sarah-Jane.
"Dogs decrease depressive symptoms such as unhappiness, feelings of worthlessness and insomnia. Dogs increase oxytocin levels, which also increases optimism, self-esteem and the ability to handle stress."
“Research has shown that when we spend time with dogs, this has beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk," said Deborah.
"In a 2017 study, over three million participants who had no risk factors for cardiovascular disease were followed up for 12 years.
"The dog owners were found to have a 33 percent reduction in the risk of dying, and a 17 percent reduction in the development of cardiovascular disease, compared to those who did not own a dog.”
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