New Study Reveals What Man's Best Friend Can Do For Your Brain Health

Many people consider pooches to be man's best friend. The American Kennel Club (AKC) acknowledges that dogs possess a keen ability to make us happier, help us cope in troubling times, reduce stress, and make us more attractive to other people. Dogs are even good for your heart — a 2019 review published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that dog ownership lowered blood pressure and decreased cardiovascular risk. 

"[Dog-assisted therapies are] valuable for many chronic disorders and may be employed in settings where 'calming' is needed, such as with children and in long-term care facilities," Dr. Joey R. Gee, a neurologist with the Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline. The therapeutic benefits of interacting with dogs work even better if it's your own pet. Dog lovers already know how awesome their furry friends are, but a new study published in PLOS One reveals what man's best friend can do for your brain health.

Interacting with dogs can improve attention and learning

The study published in PLOS One measured the brain activity of 19 healthy participants across 108 sessions. In 53 sessions, participants interacted with dogs trained to work with hospital patients. The three dogs were female, including a six-year-old Jack Russell terrier, a four-year-old Goldendoodle, and a four-year-old Golden Retriever. In the other 55 sessions, participants interacted with a lion plush animal. The plush lion was filled with a warm water bottle to mimic the heat and weight of a real dog. 

Both conditions stimulated brain activity. However, scans showed more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex when people interacted with the dog rather than the plush animal. The prefrontal cortex involves executive functions like decision-making, personality expression, social behavior (impulse inhibition), and future planning (per Science of Psychotherapy). Researchers who conducted the study concluded that connecting with dogs can improve attention, boost learning capabilities, and be helpful as a therapeutic intervention for improving emotional involvement. 

According to Healthline, the study suggests dogs may improve the effectiveness of therapies for depression, dementia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. "Pets such as dogs can and should be considered as an important therapeutic option for patients of all ages going through any number of physical or mental health issues," Dr. David A. Merrill, a psychiatrist and the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute's Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John's Health Center, told Healthline.