No, I’m not going to put on a flimsy white dress and dance around the forest in inky blackness, Wiccan style (no offense to the Wiccans). I’m far too fat for the dress, and dancing? Two left feet my friend. Plus, I’m afraid of the dark and certain trees frighten me.
And for my next trick.
The magic I’m talking about is that special “thing” that happens between a pet and its owner when they get together close. Several studies have shown that our animals profoundly affect the biochemistry of our brains. Profoundly. Not a little, not just a dab or a smidgen, but profoundly. That’s a big word for the little bitty puppy you just got – a lot of weight to carry on those tiny, furry shoulders. No wonder you can’t potty train him, he’s too wrapped up in thinking about profoundly changing your brain chemistry and all that entails. Will he mess something up in the biochemistry of your brain and create a Frankenstein-like monster because of a hormonally toxic soup he somehow created that is now swishing around in your brain? No. Tell him to put his biochemical worries to rest and concentrate more on learning how not to ruin your carpet.
The magic behind the curtain.
Researchers have shown that Oxytocin, the hormone that helps a mother and her newborn child forge their bond, increases when people interact with their animals. When you pick up and hug your beloved Pup Pup, your Oxytocin levels begin to rise, your heart rate and breathing slow down, and your blood pressure goes down a peg or two. It was sky high when you walked in the house thinking about the mass of unfinished work you just left at the office. The thought of the number of emails that you have yet to read and answer had your grey matter buried under an avalanche of stress hormones not two minutes ago. But the moment you got your nose buried in puppy fur, you started to relax. As Oxytocin levels kept rising, they washed away the brain chemicals that made you want to start a fight with somebody “just because,” and stress hormones were stopped at the door to your brain. A deep sense of “ahhhh” filled your body. Even your focus sharpened, and all from one little puppy’s mighty Oxytocin lifting strength.
Ooh, Ahh, Ohh.
Researchers say the aforementioned Oxytocin derived power to cause such feelings is a very important ingredient for forming close social relationships. That means if the rivers of Oxytocin don’t rise when you’re starting to get to know someone, chances are you’re not going to become besties. This includes close relationships with members of a different species. It’s great that you and your puppy are on the same Oxytocin wave length, otherwise it would be Mrs. Horowitz’s pug, Belvedere, all over again. That dog hates you. Both times she’s asked you to walk him for her because she’s had a visitor, he’s peed on your foot. The only thing you’ve been profoundly affected by in regards to him are that the shoes he peed on happened to be your Jimmy Choo’s – both times. There is no biochemistry connection going on anywhere near the two of you. You’d have to spray him dead center up both nostrils with Oxytocin nasal spray for him to like you. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all walk around with Oxytocin nasal spray? Just a spritz and a sniff, and Carl from Accounting, who may as well be a member of a different species, wouldn’t be quite so annoying when he ambles over to make his daily plea for you to go out with him.
Happy and high.
Oxytocin isn’t the only game in town. Other studies show that while you’re petting and cooing with your pup, other “happy hormones” are coming into play. First of all, you get a little bit of a “runners high” because of an increase of beta endorphins – your body’s natural painkillers. Not only that, your “reward” hormone, dopamine, increases a bit, and there is an uptick in the level of serotonin in your brain chemistry. Many pharmaceutical anti-depressant medications are formulated to cause such an uptick in the level of serotonin in brain chemistry. And all it took for you was one little puppy. Don’t get me wrong, if your Doctor has prescribed you an anti-depressant, take it. Think of Pup Pup as an addition to your armory against depression, but do not stop taking your medication. The chemicals of the brain are strange and exotic creatures, and we don’t want to screw up something that’s working. If your anti-depressant isn’t working, talk to your Doctor about trying a different one. Maybe a new anti-depressant and your puppy working in tandem will be like Batman and Robin – daily fighting the beast that is depression. Meanwhile, your little talks and snuggle sessions with Pup Pup will be working to normalize the soup of your brain chemistry into more like your mom’s homemade chicken noodle, and less like Norman Bates’ mom’s hotel hotpot.
And now for the end of the show.
Here’s the best part about all of this, the reward/feel good cycle works both ways. While your dog is calming you down, you are doing the same for him. My dogs are currently two piled mountains of white fur on my colorful shag rug. One of them, a six year old Great Pyrenees sheds when you look at her. One, a Malti-poo (they don’t shed), is snoring. He’s a 15 year old fart that pees against the Christmas tree and thinks I won’t notice the smell. I’m watching him tonight, though. My other source of Oxytocin is the Great Wall of shedding disguised as a Great Pyrenees. The breed is typically aloof, so she usually only loves me if she thinks I have snacks. Otherwise, she keeps her distance unless:
- I’m in the bathroom – they both follow me into the bathroom – it’s odd I know. But, I feel strangely empowered when they know I’m going and they follow me. It’s like a queen and her entourage as they trail behind my greatness.
- I’m working on the computer. She then suddenly loves me so much that she keeps nudging me with her nose – making my arm flail into the air because she’s nudging me hard at the elbow – until I pet her. This prevents me from typing with both hands, so I’m scratching her with one hand, and doing a hunt and peck with the index finger of the other hand. She does this a multitude of times during certain, carefully spaced out hours of the night – usually right at the time I need to get something written down quickly or I’ll lose my train of thought. It’s freaky how she knows when these times are. Maybe she’s psychic. Stranger things in life have happened.
The incessant barking starts at around, oh, six or seven-ish in the morning and continues until I stop letting them out by about 10 a.m. because by this time, I’m tired, cold (and I live in south Florida, Ha! My husband keeps it like a popsicle stand in here), and don’t want to keep getting up and down to let them back out or in. And I’m cranky because I’ve been up all night. But, I can’t just leave them outside barking for any good length of time to bark it out of their systems because of the neighbors. In south Florida, the houses are two inches apart. But then again, why do my neighbors need to sleep so late anyway? On the other hand, I could see how four straight hours of barking starting at six in the morning might tend to get on someone’s nerves. I largely ignore their barking myself, but I don’t think the neighbors have quite perfected this skill set.
The incessant barking starts up again the next afternoon when I first sit down to work. This continues for roughly three hours. A person can only say “Hush up!” so many times before she gives up, quits working for a while and pays attention to the dogs.
It’s not only a handy excuse to rest my fingers, I pet them and it makes me feel better all over from those “feel good” hormones. I’m typing this at 3:35 a.m. I started hours ago, but you know, gotta let the dogs out, gotta let the dogs in, gotta feed the dogs, gotta give the dogs water, gotta pet the dogs. They’re so needy.
But, if there was anyone who needed something to profoundly affect the biochemicals in their brain, it would be me. And, all those happy hormones are nice, so I let them stay around. I’m a giver.
In all seriousness, I have to tell you, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. When I’m splayed out on the couch feeling tired and dispirited after a long night of typing, and I lift my head off the pillow, and both dogs immediately come to the side of the couch for hugs and kisses because they saw me move, it really does lift my spirits enough for me to get up off the couch.
Then my entourage and I go to the bathroom.
I am not a trained therapist or Dr. I write what I feel, and maybe someone will get some use out of it. I hope they do. But if you feel like you’re going to hurt yourself or others, call 911 immediately. There are people out there that care. I am one of them. If you want to talk by email, click the ‘contact’ tab at the top of the page and send me the form. I will try to respond within 24 hours. Contact me. I look for emails from this site first.