Dog Cuddles Help People Feel More Sociable and Less Stressed, Study Finds
We already know that cuddling with dogs makes us feel great—and now there's scientific proof!
Dog owners know that physical touch like snuggling and scratches is one of the greatest gifts you can give your furry friend. And you can’t deny that when you’re cuddling with your pup—especially the extra affectionate breeds—you end up feeling better too. It turns out that dog cuddles can even have a positive effect on your mental health.
Why is cuddling with a dog good for you?
A study published in PLOS One found that petting, cuddling, or even just being around a dog stimulates your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that deals with cognitive behavior such as emotional interactions and decision-making. In other words, there’s a scientific reason why cuddling with your dog feels so good.
Researchers worked with random, healthy subjects without allergies or phobias toward dogs over a six-month period. Participants sat on a therapy couch in a white room, with sensors attached to their heads. The study consisted of six 2-minute sessions, three with a dog and three with a stuffed lion named Leo. Participants watched the dog or plush animal, sat next to the dog or plush without petting, and pet the dog or plush animal. The researchers videotaped the interactions and measured heart rate and electrodermal activity.
According to the study, participants experienced increased activity in the prefrontal cortex in the presence of the dog and the plush animal. Positive effects of increased activity in the prefrontal cortex include reduced stress and increased sociability. It’s important to note that participants experienced a lesser amount of brain activity when exposed to the stuffed animal, but there was still some present—so yes, you can enjoy those benefits without a dog.
Why do dogs like to cuddle?
Is there a better type of dog behavior than cuddling? We think not! There are a number of reasons why dogs like to cuddle, but the main one is love. Dogs are pack animals—it’s why your dog follows you—and they bond with their family or pack through cuddling. When puppies are born, one of the first things they experience is cuddling with their mom. Just like with humans, cuddling releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, in dogs—so it feels just as great for your pup as it does for you. However, there may be some practicality as well. Sometimes dogs cuddle because they’re cold, and other times they just like the attention.
Note: Your dog needs affection, but many dogs aren’t fond of certain types of physical affection, like bear hugs, and may even find it threatening or stressful. If you want your dog to cuddle with you, you’ll need to establish trust. Don’t force your dog to cuddle, and if you decide to train your dog to cuddle, start small and proceed slowly. It’s important to bond with your pet in a way that makes him feel comfortable!
What are other ways dogs can benefit your mental health?
Dogs don’t just make great companions—they can also provide emotional support and boost your mental health in a number of ways. According to the National Institutes of Health, interacting with animals has been shown to decrease the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, and even lower blood pressure. Studies show that pet ownership decreases loneliness, which improves mood and social support, the same feeling you get from family and friends. Owning a dog means taking lots of walks and playing games like keep-away and tug, which can increase your physical activity and in turn boost mental health. Whether you already have one or were considering getting one, there are plenty of upsides to having a furry friend in your home.
PLOS ONE: “Effects of contact with a dog on prefrontal brain activity: A controlled trial”
National Institutes of Health: “The Power of Pets”