How your bond with your dog changes your brain
The bond between a dog and their owner is a strong one, but how exactly does this connection form so cohesively and how does it impact human brain chemistry?
Dog expert and author Meg Olmert spoke in-depth about just how exactly dogs affect our brain chemistry, and how a relationship between canines and humans that started 45,000 years ago has become such an integral part of our lives today.
It all boils down to hormones, particularly the pleasure hormones like dopamine and oxytocin.
Olmert told Business Insider that seeing and petting your dog releases oxytocin in the brain.
Oxytocin is a central hormone for bonding between mothers and their children and it promotes breast milk production in mammals.
The fact that oxytocin strengthens mother and child bonds helps explain why the connection with a pet can be so strong.
Spending time with your pet also alleviates stress as a result of the mood-boosting hormones released after interacting with your four-legged friend.
“You release oxytocin, the opioids, adrenaline, and serotonin. So, all of these great reward chemicals and anti-stress chemicals can be released in both you and the pet,” Olmert told Business Insider.
Not all dogs produce this response according to Olmert. When people are faced with any dog off the street, or even different breeds, the brain reacts in different ways.
Some breeds that are perceived as more aggressive like pit bulls or rottweilers will increase heart rate and anxiety, even triggering the fight or flight response.
“Dogs perceived as being fierce will trigger a different hormonal profile (increased cortisol, adrenaline, etc). They may not be an actual threat to illicit this defensive response,” Olmert told the Daily Mail.
On the other hand, dogs from breeds that are considered more social and loyal like golden retrievers will trigger more of the pleasure response and oxytocin.
Having a pet can be a greatly rewarding experience as studies have shown that owning a dog comes with many health benefits, and Olmert’s work helps explain why the bond between pets and humans are so strong and long-lasting.