Does the Way You Greet Your Dog Affect Their Wellbeing?

June 12, 2014

By Linda Cole

Two of my dogs, Keikei and Dozer, love to wrestle with each other outside. Both of them enjoy the back and forth, and trying to get them back inside after their morning duty run was frustrating, to say the least. One day I decided to try a new tactic, and when Keikei was at the foot of the stairs, I called her to come, showed her a CANIDAE Pure Heaven treat, and waited for her to bounce up the steps. When she got to the top, I gave her the treat, along with some praise and a mini massage. Treats will definitely get a dog’s attention, but according to a new study, how you greet your dog matters.

The bond we have with other people or our pet doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process of earning and building on a trust that grows over time. Our human tendency is to gravitate towards people with a positive attitude who are quick to give us a warm smile. It’s nonthreatening, comforting and indicates friendliness. A simple greeting makes you feel good. When touch is added, the emotional response has a lasting effect. Touch is an important aspect of the bonding process with dogs too. A casual touch from someone who cares is a positive sign of an emotional bond. Like us, dogs are social creatures and how we greet them plays a role in their emotional outlook. Dogs need to feel our touch as much as we need contact from people we care about.

Swedish researchers conducted a study using 12 Beagles to see how dogs responded emotionally to greetings from someone they knew after they had been separated for a period of time. A person the dog knew took each one to a test area they had been in before and left them alone for 25 minutes before returning. The only person in the room with the dog was a veterinary student who was unfamiliar to the Beagles. The student’s role was only to collect blood samples from each dog to measure two specific hormones. Afterwards, the student sat quietly and ignored the dogs.

After 25 minutes, the familiar person returned. The Beagles were greeted in one of three ways. One greeting was talking to the dog with a positive tone of voice and touching him. The second greeting excluded the petting, but the familiar person used the same friendly tone of voice. For the third greeting, the person entered the room without speaking to the dog or touching him, walked over to a chair, picked up a magazine, and sat down to read it.

To find out what the emotional response of each dog was, researchers measured the amount of oxytocin that was released into the dog’s blood stream. Oxytocin is a hormone often referred to as the love hormone because it’s released in high concentration levels during times of positive social interactions in both humans and dogs. On the opposite end is the hormone, cortisol, which is released during times of stress and is associated with feeling tense, fearful, anxious or uneasy.

The results of the study essentially revealed what any dog owner who has a close bond with their pet already knows. When the Beagles saw the familiar person return, each one wagged their tail and became more active. Oxytocin levels in their blood rose and cortisol concentrations fell. But the largest concentration of oxytocin shot up when the dog was greeted with a friendly tone of voice and was also petted. The cortisol levels decreased dramatically.

What was even more interesting to the researchers was that the positive change in the emotional health of the dogs lasted for a long period of time after the initial positive greeting and touch. When the dog was only spoken to and not touched, the emotional response didn’t last nearly as long, and was even quicker to go away when there was no greeting at all. In fact, the dogs appeared to be upset by the lack of a greeting of any kind by the familiar person, and went to the veterinary student to try and get some kind of physical interaction from them.

A positive tone of voice and an affectionate touch makes dogs feel happy and contented. There’s a reason why canines like to snuggle next to the ones they love. The bond we share with our best friend is an emotional journey that gives them comfort and a feeling of wellbeing. How you greet your dog is as important to him as a warm greeting is to us.

Top photo by Donald Lee Pardue
Middle photo by AirBeagle
Bottom photo by Lee Coursey

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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