10 May 2016

More than a Best Friend: Dogs are Beneficial to our Health


A sloppy smooch, a wet nose, and a wagging tail welcome guests to the puppy studio at Sunrise Springs.  These bright, furry companions offer a heart opening experience for all that come into contact with them.  But what is it that makes us so open to bonding with our canine confidantes?

In essence, the bond you are feeling with your dog is being felt by your dog as well.  

Love at First Sight?

Whether you’ve just landed on a comfy couch next to your small puppy, or cuddled up on the floor with your big hound, you know the love present in a simple look. Many dog owners can relate to time spent staring into their canine companion’s eyes. But did you know this simple act of gazing creates chemical shifts in both the owner and the dog?

The release of oxytocin, a chemical known for promoting bonding between mothers and their children, is stimulated by eye contact. While researchers have long understood the nature of oxytocin release within mammals, they have only recently begun to discover its effects between species.

Recent studies show that oxytocin bonding occurs when people gaze into their dog’s eyes. During maintained eye contact, oxytocin release increases not only in humans, but in their dogs as well. In essence, the bond you are feeling with your dog is being felt by your dog as well.

A Cure for Life’s Stresses

Let’s face it, life is full of stresses. We all need to take more time to do the things we enjoy most in life. Having a dog by your side is a great excuse to make time to play catch, go for a hike, or take a swim. But for those short on time, or low on energy, sitting around petting your dog after a difficult day can also help alleviate stress and anxiety.

Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” is released in response to situations of stress or fear. Chronic, elevated levels of cortisol have been linked to depression, repressed immune function and lower life expectancy. Researchers have demonstrated that the presence of dogs during stressful situations decrease the release of cortisol. In other words, time spent with dogs can help decrease the biological effects of stress on human health. No wonder we love our dogs!

Studies have also shown that people can influence the stress response in dogs as well. Dogs have been shown to respond positively to being pet by humans after a stressful situation, such as a procedure at the veterinarian’s office. In these situations, dogs’ showed a lowered cortisol response when they were pet after the procedure then those dogs who were not. This is another powerful example of the bond between people and dogs.

So the next time the opportunity presents itself, take a few moments to pet your dog, play a game of catch, or gaze into your puppy’s eyes. You’ll be improving the outlook for yourself and your dog!


Danielle Simmons, Horticulture and Animal Interactions
Inspired by her childhood experience of play in the forests of upstate New York, Danielle has devoted her career to connecting human wellness with a deeper engagement to the natural world. Danielle planted and manages the greenhouse and the garden beds at Sunrise. She enjoys teaching guests the many uses of herbs, from first aid to making herbal teas and salves. When she is not being inspired by the big trees and abundant water at Sunrise, she is enjoying time with her family and their organic garden, which they tend on their homestead south of Santa Fe.