The most wondrous thing about my dogs is their innate “cuddle-ability.”
Riley and Lucy love nothing more than to be held and petted. They beg for it. And who can resist a face like Riley’s?
This is a Dandie Dinmont Terrier trait. They so love to cuddle that at all our Dandie Dinmont Terrier Club of Canada public events we have a special “Cuddling Parlour” where anyone can sit down and “cuddle a Dandie.”
It’s no secret that petting any dog or cat, for that matter, creates a magnificent neuroscientific reaction in the person doing the cuddling and petting. A bonding hormone is produced called Oxytocin, the same hormone nursing mothers produce when they are breast feeding their children.
It’s also called the hormone of love.
I have no children of my own, though I do have two terrific grown stepdaughters.
My dogs are my kids. I admit this wholeheartedly. I try not to anthropomorphize them, but how can you resist a face like Riley’s, shown here about six weeks ago right after his bath.
Usually, he vomits during the night if I’m upset about something. My feelings are contagious for him, poor little guy.
A few years ago, I read Meg Daley Olmert‘s groundbreaking book, Made for Each Other – The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond.
She explains the science behind our intense emotional relationships with our pets, their dynamics. At the same time, I had the privilege of meeting her and discussing her findings.
Olmert was always fascinated with animals and worked with veterinarians and eventually with National Geographic Television.
She was endlessly drawn to how people and wild animals interact. She began doing her own research and found scientists studying the therapeutic healing effects of having people with heart disease and mental illnesses engage with animals.
She witnessed how young boys with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders were calmer and more attentive when paired with or in the company of rabbits, turtles, gerbils and doves. It’s now well known that our interactions with animals can lower blood pressure and heart rate. She was the first person to really delve into the human-animal bond, to question scientists and to push for answers.
Eventually she found that the key to this bond is the hormone Oxytocin, which until then, no one had considered investigating. Pets, she found, are one of the most powerful triggers of Oxytocin in humans.
Now, I’ve known this for years. My first dog came into my life after a torturous seven-month stay in a psychiatric hospital when I was in my teens. My little Yorkshire Terrier, Derry, became the focus of my fragile life. Caring for him helped me to heal myself.
No wonder therapy dogs are so essential for people with a multitude of physical, developmental and psychological problems.
No wonder, caring for puppies is one of the most effective ways to rehabilitate war veterans suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Olmert explained that my dog Riley not only loves me unconditionally because I walk him and feed him and groom him. His dependency on my closeness and all facets of our relationship is all about chemistry, neurochemistry. Certainly for those of us with psychiatric histories or diagnoses, our pets have long been our most loyal and loving companions.
Stroking Riley or his mischievous little consort Lucy calms me more easily and effortlessly – more safety, too – than any psychotropic drug.
While mental health problems have a sorry history of socially marginalizing us, our pets are oblivious to this discrimination and prejudice. It doesn’t compute with them and hormonally, Oxytocin works no matter what “label” we’ve been assigned.
All my dogs want is to connect with me and bond with me and be touched by my and be in-touch with me.
For many years, before I met my husband, when I was 50, my little Poodle-Shih Tsu cross Murphy was my significant other. My dogs have loved me more divinely than any human possibly can, though my husband might disagree. (I’m not asking him. I don’t want to put this to the test.)
They understand me, as I’m sure your dogs understand you, on a visceral level that cannot be matched by any psychiatrist or psychologist or close relatives or even spouses. Without words. They’re our little children who never grow up.
Spell the word “dog” backwards and you have “god.” Is this a coincidence?
So besides keeping me active and stabilizing my routine, my dogs keep me sane by demanding to be cuddled and loved and by stimulating the production of the “hormone of love,” Oxytocin.
This never fails to work. Ever.
This post currently has
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.
Last reviewed: 21 Jun 2012