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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


8 June 2013

The touching things about dogs

Hi Julie,

(source: The Blue Dog)
WOW! May was a seriously jam-packed month for dogs! I'm just as amazed as you are that it's already June. I think I'm in denial, although June means lots of fun things happening, like the SPARCS conference, so maybe it's actually OK that it's here.

I loved your last post. So much great information - thank you for sharing! You mentioned how you avoid touching dogs if they don't want to interact and that got me thinking about a sense I haven't written about yet. 

We've covered views, smells, music and now, I'm going to touch on, well... touch
Not the bitey kind of touch, but the soothing, calm, stroking kind.

The outside of a dog is good for our insides...
It's true. Patting a dog is something we enjoy. The tactile experience of touching something soft and warm is inherently pleasing

Research has shown that human oxytocin (=happy/social/feel good/"love" hormone) levels rise when we interact with our dogs. Our blood pressure and heart rates lower when we pat dogs, as do our cortisol (=stress hormone) levels.

These are just some of the reasons there is so much interest in researching further benefits of human-animal interactions and animal-assisted therapies.

...and we can be good for a dog's insides too!

Interestingly, other studies have shown that dogs' heart rate, cortisol levels and blood pressure can lower when we groom and pat them. Of course, this is not universal. Dogs are individuals and their preferences will vary.

Not all pats are equal

Research suggests that dogs prefer to be patted in a soothing way. Not really surprising - think of how we like to be touched and compare a back slap with a gentle stroke. I know which would be more likely to lower my heart rate and relax me!

A study that examined the reinforcing value of physical contact by grooming to dogs showed that length of grooming (longer=better) was more important than location of grooming in reducing heart rate.

What are you doing this week? I'm off to Sydney for a few days to meet with loads of different working dog groups to talk Action PlanI'll be sure to tell you all about it next time. 

Right now, I'm going to go give my dogs a nice long pat!

Further reading:

McGreevy P.D., Righetti J. & Thomson P.C. (2005). The reinforcing value of physical contact and the effect on canine heart rate of grooming in different anatomical areas, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 18 (3) 236-244. DOI:

Coppola C.L., Grandin T. & Enns R.M. (2006). Human interaction and cortisol: Can human contact reduce stress for shelter dogs?, Physiology & Behavior, 87 (3) 537-541. DOI:

Hennessy M.B., Voith V.L., Hawke J.L., Young T.L., Centrone J., McDowell A.L., Linden F. & Davenport G.M. (2002). Effects of a program of human interaction and alterations in diet composition on activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in dogs housed in a public animal shelter, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 221 (1) 65-91. DOI:

Bergamasco L., Osella M.C., Savarino P., Larosa G., Ozella L., Manassero M., Badino P., Odore R., Barbero R. & Re G. & (2010). Heart rate variability and saliva cortisol assessment in shelter dog: Human–animal interaction effects, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 125 (1-2) 56-68. DOI:

Odendaal J.S.J. (2000). Animal-assisted therapy — magic or medicine?, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 49 (4) 275-280. DOI:

O'Haire M. (2010). Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 5 (5) 226-234. DOI:

© 2013 Mia Cobb
Cobb Hecht
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