Do you know how to meet and greet your pet dog in the very best way?
How do you react when you return home and your dog is happy to see you? Most dog owners do the obvious and natural thing, as they meet and greet their pet in a happy reunion, -one of life’s most joyous moments full of unconditional love and tail wagging.
Yet, some of our time’s most famous dog trainers will tell you to ignore the dog for the first 5-10 minutes after you return home, as -so it is said- this will teach the dog who’s the boss (as if he didn’t know, you are the one to open doors, serve food, arrange walks, drive the car, etc). In its most extreme form, the so-called ‘advice’ for dog owners states: “No talk, No touch, No eye contact”.
If you ever tried this, well, then stop it.
The famous dog trainers promoting the “No talk, No touch, No eye contact”-concept don’t mention a sad fact: Anyone who follows this advice will be deprived of a very special moment, namely the joyous and tail-wagging reunion of dog and man. And it gets worse: Anyone who follows this advice will deteriorate the dog’s health, not to mention his best interests.
Let’s for a while forget about dog trainers, animal experts, behaviorists and all that, in order to only consider the reunion scene from a neurobiological and neurochemical point of view. In other words, let’s look at the brain and how its mind-altering chemicals react during a reunion of dog and owner.
This is interesting because your dog’s biochemistry is affected directly and significantly by you and how you behave the second you enter your home, even after a short separation from your dog.
It turns out that most dog owners behave in one of the following three ways:
- You greet your dog devotedly as you talk to, touch, and pet your dog reflecting how much you missed him.
- You enter the house while you only talk to the dog (no touching, devotion or petting)
- You neither talk to nor pet or even touch your dog, as you ignore him for a while after your return
Research studies have now shown what happens to your dog’s brain, mind and hormonal system, when you behave in these ways.
If you belong to the affectionate and devoted owners who follow option 1, your dog will immediately release a set of healthy molecules including the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin, which facilitates bonding and trust between mammals (humans and other animals alike). The ‘reward hormones’ dopamine, phenylethylamine and endorphins are also increased significantly during such a devoted reunion scene between dog and owner.
And there’s more, -the dog’s stress hormones and his blood pressure are reduced, and he enters a state of physical and mental relaxation and restoration. In other words, all is good, since your dog now feels safe, loved and cared for, which are in fact what dogs always strive for with us humans.
This is a very healthy state to be in, since it is associated not only with changes in molecular biochemistry but also with changes in the health profile. Hence, being in this state is linked to improved immunity against infections and dysplasia, faster wound healing, less food allergies, less behavior problems, and diminished sense of pain.
The best thing is that it is not only the dog, who get to enjoy these benefits, -they also affect you.
Now, if you belong to the second group of dog owners, ie. those who enter the house while they only talk to their dog (no touching, devotion or petting), then you dog is deprived from the above mentioned benefits. Hence, if only talked to by the returning and rather self-centred owner, the dog’s blood pressure, stress level (distress) and feelings of anxiety remain exactly where they were, when he was left home alone. Remember here that being left home alone all day is not natural for any dog, as dogs belong to a social species who will always seek contact with other individuals.
Now, it can get much worse. In case you belong to the third group of dog owners, ie. those who ignore the dog. Some people are in fact following the ‘advice’ stating that you are not supposed to talk, pet or even touch your dog for 5-10 minutes after your return.
In this case, you are not only depriving your dog from the health benefits derived from affectionate and devoted owners (who follow option 1), instead you have become a source of health hazards. Owners who completely ignore their dog’s greetings will in return get a dog, whose blood pressure, stress level and anxiety are raised significantly as compared to the (rather poor) condition he was in, while he was home alone.
Being ignored by his owner, when finally the owner returns home is from the dog’s point of view a serious rejection leaving him in a vulnerable state without the feelings of safety that come with a true guardian.
Hence, the dog is deprived from ‘reward hormones’ like dopamine, phenylethylamine and endorphin, and this is lasting for up to 24 hours.
Besides, stress hormones are elevated, and soon the owner might complain that the dog is scared in thunderstorms or that he behaves badly or likewise.
Sadly, the only bad behavior is the owner’s.
The point is that any responsible and caring dog owner should spent some time with their dog after a period of separation, – not only because your dog will benefit, but because you both will benefit.
Remember this the next time you return home, and make the most of it as you playfully roll over with Fido, pet and cuddle him, as these moments of joy will let you both grow better health, deeper bonding and improved resilience towards diseases.
Consequently, whenever I stumple upon the ‘advice’ stating: “No talk, No touch, No eye contact”, it always makes me sad, because what it truly means is: No life
In fact, the biochemical cross-talking between human and canine can go even further than this. Science shows how you can significantly alter your dog’s inner biology including hormones, mind, mood and immune system, not only by means of your good or bad behavior as an owner, but also by means of the hormone levels that you release within your blood stream. So, owners with high versus low testosterone levels will actually change their dogs’ hormone levels – like if some sort of “human-canine hormone replacement therapy” was going on.
This is truly fascinating and it shows just how much we can affect our dogs – even without knowing.
What you may be interested in knowing is how, why and when this happens (?)
If yes, then you may find the answer in my newest book: Dogs & Human Health, which you can get right here: