- Most dog owners are aware – from personal experience and scientific research – that canines have a positive effect on human health. But a new study suggests interacting with pooches has the potential to actually alter brain chemistry.
- Once a week, Lindsay Ellsworth, a doctoral candidate at Washington State University, takes shelter dogs to a residential treatment center for teen boys with drug and alcohol problems. While there, she measures the mood and emotions of the teens selected to spend time with the dogs, as compared to a group of teens who play sports or video games instead.
- The boys who spent time with the dogs brushing, feed and playing with them reported increases in cheerful feelings, attentiveness and serenity. They also reported a decrease in feelings of sadness. Teens with ADHD, PTSD and depression also showed dramatic improvement while interacting with the dogs.
- Ellsworth believes dopamine is released in the teens’ brains as they await the arrival of the dogs. She believes interacting with the dogs socially may also trigger release of nature’s feel-good hormones. These responses to the dogs may help restore normal function to brain chemistry that has been altered through drug use.
- Ellsworth plans to increase visits to the treatment center this summer. She wants to investigate how the dogs impact the teens’ involvement in group therapy and cooperation in structured activities.