Have you ever gotten the advice to not greet your dog when you come home? To simply ignore and then move on with your day? Or are you having a petting party with your dog every time you return home?
Here is what science has to say about greeting your dog when you come home.
The science behind greeting
In a study from 2014 an experiment was set up to see how dog’s reacted both behaviourally and physically to being greeted by a familiar person upon arrival after a period of separation. 12 female beagles were divided into 3 different groups – 1 group was greeted by their human with both verbal and physical contact, the second group was only greeted verbally but without touch and the 3rd group was completely ignored upon arrival. Blood samples were collected to measure both Oxytocin and Cortisol levels along with behavioural observations for comparison.
Oxytocin and Cortisol are opposites. Oxytocin is also known as the happiness hormone, and it has been shown that Oxytocin levels increase when dogs interact with their human. Oxytocin will rise in the dog both through eye contact with their human and through physical touch such as petting. (Read more about the effect of Oxytocin here). On the other hand, you will see a rise in Cortisol if the dog experiences stress.
The affects of greeting
The results from the study indicates that the way you greet your dog does have an effect both physically and in the dog’s behaviour. The study showed that the boost of Oxytocin was highest when the dogs were greeted with both physical and verbal contact. The rise in Oxytocin also lasted longer after the reunion had ended. This could be due to that the physical contact from petting the dog activates sensory afferent fibres in the skin. This extra stimulation could be the cause of the Oxytocin boost lasting longer.
Furthermore, the Cortisol levels also decreased faster then when compared to the other two tests where only verbal or no interaction at all were given. Both the longer increase in Oxytocin levels along with the faster decrease in Cortisol levels made the dogs calm down faster after ending the greeting upon the return of the human. This is interesting as many people believe that by greeting their dog they will actually make the dog more excited, hence the advice about ignoring the dog when you come home. However, according to this study it will actually calm your dog down faster if you greet him/her both with physical and verbal contact compared to only greeting verbally or not at all.
But the affect was not only seen in the physical samples. The dogs behaviour also changed depending on how they were greeted.
Dogs showed the highest amount of lip licking when met with both physical and verbal contact. Lip licking is often seen as a more negative behaviour shown when the dog is under pressure or stressed but it has been found that many canids also use it as a greeting signal. It is a sign of affection and indicates a close bond with the receiver (Read more about the dog-human relation here).
In other studies lip licking has been observed to increase after a longer time being separated from their humans. Lip licking has also been seen when dogs try to ask their human for help and is often accompanied by gazing. This is seen as a way to communicate and increase the attention from the human.
Furthermore, it was found that the dogs in the study would be more vocal after only being greeted verbally. This suggest that the vocalisation is a contact-seeking behaviour and if the dogs did not get their need for contact fully met, they would try to vocalise more to get more attention from the human returning, as other behaviours such as leaning, did not seem to work to get the humans attention (Learn more about dog body language here).
From this study we can therefor conclude that greeting your dog is better both physically and behaviourally for your dog, but it is not enough with verbal greetings you have to get your hands into that fur and give a good welcome rub to give your dog (and yourself) that awesome Oxytocin boost they are asking for.
Rehn, T. et al. 2014. Dog’s endocrine and behavioural responses at reunion are affected by how the human initiates contact. Physiology & Behavior 124, 45-53.