Many Ways Dogs Can Help Heal Our Bodies, Minds, and Hearts

5 min read
Gaspar Zaldo/Pexels

Source: Gaspar Zaldo/Pexels

Dogs are very popular companion animals and can form close relationships with their people. They also can have positive benefits on humans’ physical, emotional, cognitive, and social well-being. In Jen Golbeck and Stacey Colino’s new book, The Purest Bond: Understanding the Human–Canine Connection, we learn a lot about how dogs can help heal our bodies, minds, and hearts, and I’m glad they could answer a few questions about their highly acclaimed discussion of multidimensional human-dog relationships.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write The Purest Bond?

Jen Golbeck and Stacey Colino: During the pandemic when people were hunkered down at home, they began to spend more time with the dogs they had, or they adopted or rescued pups, perhaps for the first time. When so much feels wrong with the world, this joyful connection provides a powerful reminder of what continues to be right in our lives—love, trust, affection, playfulness, fresh air, and time outside. Celebrating that bond helps relieve people’s stress and gives them hope.

Atria Books

Source: Atria Books

MB: How does your latest book relate to your backgrounds and general areas of interest?

JG: Professionally, I am a scientist and science communicator. I’ve also done some of my own research on how people connect with their dogs through technology and how dogs impact people’s sense of well-being. That, combined with my own background as guardian of a large squad of special-needs rescue golden retrievers, made this project a perfect fit for my interests.

SC: I am a writer, specializing in health, psychology, and science, and I have coauthored numerous books in these areas. This was my first book about the incredible bonds people have with their dogs and how beneficial they are on so many levels. This is something I have experienced firsthand as a lifelong dog lover—I grew up with dogs and have had three rescue dogs during my adult life.

MB: Who do you hope to reach with your interesting and important book?

JG/SC: We want people who love dogs to see their own experiences in the book and learn more about the science that underlies the amazing benefits they get from this connection.

MB: What are some of the major topics you cover?

JG/SC: In our book, we explore how bonds develop between people and their dogs and how they evolve over time, as well as how dogs facilitate communication within families and benefit our physical and emotional health and our lives within our communities. We also dive into what dogs need from us and how we can recognize their needs throughout their lives.1

This is a reciprocal relationship. We love our dogs, and they love us back, down to the biological level. When there’s a strong bond between people and their pups, we can catch each other’s emotions and affect each other’s hormone levels—including oxytocin, which is often called the “love hormone” or the “cuddle hormone”—in beneficial ways.

We also form “attachment bonds” with our dogs. These are deep emotional connections, most often studied between babies and their mothers, but they happen with our dogs, too. In one study, researchers showed dogs videos featuring their human caregivers, acquaintances, or unknown individuals while their cerebral responses were monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The sight of their owners stimulated regions in the dogs’ brains that correspond to emotional responses, bonding, and pleasure recognition in humans. This indicates that our dogs really do love us just like our family members do.

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

JG/SC: Our book is really a joyful celebration of the richness and the benefits of the bond between people and their dogs. Rather than being focused on one aspect of the bond—such as love or training—The Purest Bond explores multiple facets of this relationship, including how dogs serve as stabilizing influences in our lives, the challenges of living with an aging dog and how we can adapt some of our favorite activities to suit their evolving needs, and grieving the loss of these beloved creatures when they die. The depth of that grief often catches people by surprise, and our culture doesn’t recognize how profound it can be, which leads to “disenfranchised grief” that can make it even more intense.

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn more about who dogs are and what they want and need from us they will be more open to developing and maintaining a relationship that is a win-win for the dogs and the humans?

JG/SC: Absolutely! Our hope is that understanding how important we are to them as well as vice versa will make us more invested in their well-being and committed to the connection. This relationship needs to be valued and respected just as much as any other important relationship in someone’s life. You owe your dog at least that much.

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