Emotions involved in the human-dog connection


Emotions involved in the human-dog connection

Photo: Shutterstock

If you may have noticed, dog owners love their dogs a great deal. For many people, dogs become just like members of the family. They talk to them, pet them lovingly, play with them like children and even dress them up on occasion. So when your pet dog dies from old age, how do you cope? For most owners, the answer is, not well. They are left devastated and feel as though they can’t talk to anyone about their loss.

Human-dog connection and emotions can get pretty complicated when a pet dies. It’s natural to feel a range of emotions when a pet dies.

“People feel guilty because they feel worse when their dog dies than if a family member dies,” Lori Kogan, associate professor of clinical sciences at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, says. “And then they think they’re a bad person.” But Kogan says that there’s a reason people feel this strongly when their dogs die as their relationship with dogs is extremely complicated.

A Yankelovich study for American Demographics found that nearly a third of respondents, half of which are single people, said that of everyone present in their lives, they depended mostly on pets for companionship and friendliness. It is a disturbing fact that owners have admitted that they can endure the loss of a friend or spouse, but they’re not sure how they would live without their dog.

Research affirms that the feeling that humans have towards their dogs is a lot like love. According to U.S. News, a study, published the journal Science, there is increased levels of oxytocin – the hormone associated with both maternal and passionate love in humans – in both pups and humans when they interact.

Oddly, this doesn’t happen when humans play with wolf pups. This phenomenon is explained by the lead study author Takefumi Kikusui, a professor in the Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology at Azabu University in Japan, by suggesting there exists “a coevolution between human and dogs”.

Is it healthy?
Studies have shown that petting a dog that’s “familiar and friendly” can regulate your breathing, lower your heart rate and cause your tense muscles to relax. A study comprising of 550 people, published in 2012 in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, saw that stress levels among workers reduced during the course of the day if they brought their dogs to work. Sadly, those who left their dogs at home or didn’t have a pet dog had an increasing stress level trend as the work day progressed.

Is it possible to love your dog too much?
It stands to reason that your attachment to your dog could go too far. Kogan says, “Just as you can have unhealthy relationships and attachments to people, you can have unhealthy attachments to pets.” If you don’t have anyone in your life, it is a bad sign, whether or not you have a pet dog to love. So, even though a 2011 study found that dog owners benefit from interacting with their pets, it’s not advisable to give priority to your dog over interaction with people and socially staying aloof all the time. That should be a red flag. It’s really easy to isolate yourself from real human contact as we gravitate towards a more online life, but even taking your dog out for a walk can mean you have interaction with other people, in the form of other dog owners.

Thus, it is difficult when a person you love dies and it’s natural to feel sorrow and express grief. It is hard to forget your dog entirely. But in time, the painful feelings will recede. And when the appropriate time comes, remember that your local animal shelter is a great place to find your next special friend in need of a loving family.

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