Could playing with the dog make you as happy as spending time with a baby or loved one? It seems possible according to a new study of 55 dog owners and their pets. The test examined oxytocin (aka, the "love drug"), the chemical found to lessen stress and depression in humans when related to babies and romantic partners, to see if social contact between two different species could boost levels as well.
For this lab session, the pairs of pet-plus-person were divided into three groups: Long gaze – locked eyes with pets for an average of 2.5 minutes during the session; short gaze – locked eyes with pets for less than 45 seconds on average, and a control group – avoiding the gaze of pets altogether. Measuring oxytocin before and after found that, lo and behold, levels rose by more than 20 percent during the long-gaze play session. Get the rest of the story when you read more.
Since eye contact is a good proxy for the bond between owner and dog, biologist Takefumi Kikusui, of Azuba University in Japan found this flood of oxytocin could explain why looking at and playing with dogs can lift moods and improve mild symptoms of anxiety or depression. In fact, those who re-create this unknowingly in their own homes tend to rate relationships with pets as more satisfying than short-gaze owners . . . and to think I thought I only liked to stare at North 'cause he's just so adoro!