A recent study conducted jointly from Monash University in Australia and Pedigree Petfoods found that the bond between a human and a dog may actually cause their heartbeats to sync with one another.
The researchers connected three pairs of dogs and their owners to heart rate monitors. After separating the dogs from their owners for a period of time they brought the pairs together again and observed their heartbeats. They found that within a minute both heartbeats dropped significantly and “even appeared to mirror each other.”
Mia Cobb, the canine expert who led the study with Dr. Craig Duncan, told the Huffington Post that these results reveal the mutual benefits the dog-human relationship has in lowering stress levels. It’s long been known that dog ownership can lower our heart rate and reduce our stress, but this new study suggests dogs also physically benefit from the bond.
Cobb said the study quantifies what most owners experience every evening when they come home to their dog. Cobb inferred that the impact of this bond can benefit our entire society, stating, “A lowered heart rate makes a significant difference to our overall well-being. If we can decrease our heart rate by hanging out with our animals, that’s something that can really benefit the community.”
In another study published in Psychology Today, best-selling author, scientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, Stanley Coren reported that while dogs benefit from our company, it’s not because we’re hugging them. In fact, hugging actually raises their stress level.
Coren explained that dogs are cursorial animals; which means they’re designed to run away from stressful situations. Their natural response to stress is not to bite, but to flee. What happens when a dog can’t flee? Coren explains that restraining a dog with a hug deprives him of the ability to run. This can increase his stress level. If the dog becomes overly anxious, he may feel he has no alternative but to bite to get away.
When a local unvaccinated dog bites a human, State law requires the dog to be quarantined at YHS for 10 days to ensure the dog is not rabid. Consequently, YHS is very familiar with how people, and children in particular, get bit.
YHS is constantly working to help reduce dog bites; often warning people, especially children, to not hug dogs. YHS is not alone in offering this advice. A few years ago a children’s book titled “Smooch Your Pooch” encouraged kids to hug and kiss their dog anytime and anywhere. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) was so alarmed by this ill-informed and dangerous advice that they released an official statement strongly advising parents to not purchase the book because it contained “information [that] can cause children to be bitten.”
Signs of stress in dogs are easily observable, and include baring teeth; turning head away; closing eyes, sometimes partially; showing a “half-moon” or “whale” eye (white portion of the eyes at the corner or the rim); lowering ears or slicking them against the side of the head; lip licking or licking a person’s face; yawning or raising one paw. These signs indicate a stressed dog and if ignored, a bite may likely occur.
Dog ownership is a big responsibility. It requires attentive parental supervision. The benefits of making a dog part of the family are undeniable and unlimited, and with vigilance and knowledge, the tragic consequences of being bitten by a dog are preventable.
It’s not too late to register for the Fifth Annual YHS Walk for the Animals. Visit www.yavapaihumane.org/walkfortheanimals to register and/or make a donation today!
Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 445-2666, ext. 101.