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Do you feel happier after petting your dog? A study explains why

Dogs benefit from being petted, too.

There’s a reason you can’t help but pet every dog you pass on the street — and it’s not just because of how cute they are. Science shows that petting dogs can actually supercharge the emotional part of your brain.

For the study conducted by PLOS ONE, 21 participants spent three sessions interacting with a stuffed animal and then three sessions with an actual dog. Although brain activity increased in both instances, people benefited a lot more emotionally when interacting with the dog.

The result: Being around pups might electrify our emotions and can lead to greater benefits for people who need help with, “motivation, attention and socio-emotional functioning,” the study says.

“This study provides more concrete evidence of how humans benefit from physical interaction with dogs and may encourage more health-care providers to recommend animal interaction to help treat their patients,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, says. “It may also encourage more people to adopt a dog or spend more time with them as a form of stress relief and relaxation.”

According to Dr. Singler, this study adds to the growing research on how dogs help humans. For example, being around pups has shown to decrease peoples’ blood pressure, depression and isolation while increasing their exercise and social interaction.

“Dogs can also detect changes in their parent’s health and emotional state and alert them to get help and/or avert heightened emotional states,” Dr. Singler shares. “Petting, interacting with and caring for dogs can make life richer and healthier for humans.”

Even though the study proves that we’re definitely benefitting when interacting with dogs, the pups actually get something deeper out of the pets, too. 

“While every dog is different, petting can help dogs feel relaxed and comfortable, much in the same way it can help humans to interact with dogs,” Dr. Singler says. “Dogs who are pet by familiar people, and sometimes even by unfamiliar people, may pant less, be less restless and may be more tolerant of stressful situations such as veterinary visits and medication administration.”

RELATED: Feeling stressed? Your dog probably smells it

Many pups like to be petted as much as possible and are pretty good at showing it. (Friendly tail wags and licks are fair signs someone is looking for attention!) And if you scratch the right leg-twitching, sigh-inducing spot, chances are they’ll continue to ask for more. 

“Those places tend to have clusters of nerves that get activated when touched,” Dr. Singler explains. “The kicking spot, or scratch reflex, is involuntary, meaning dogs can't control it, but they may still like being petted there. So you can look at your dog's body language to determine if they're enjoying it.”

Rubbing a dog’s ears, which stimulates the nerve endings in those areas, can even release endorphins, reducing pain and making them feel good, Dr. Singler adds. 

However, some dogs prefer to sit next to you rather than be touched — and that’s OK. There are plenty of other ways to show a dog love from spending quality time together to offering vet-approved treats to sharing praise.

It may have been obvious that loving-up on your dog makes you (and your pet) feel happy, but now you know it’s a scientific fact. So the next time you’re petting your dog, feel free to extend those rubs even longer — it’s good for both of you! 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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