Science Says You Should Probably Pet Your Dog Before You Leave the House
If it were up to our pups, we'd never leave the house. Unfortunately for most of us, that's not an option. Instead, we steel ourselves for those big, sad eyes and promise to be back soon.
Ironically, the trait humans love most about dogs (that they thrive on companionship) can also be one of the most difficult to manage. Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioral tendencies in dogs. In fact, anywhere from 20 to 40% of pups can suffer from a degree of separation anxiety at some point in their lives.
From training to medication, there are several ways to make your absences less painful for your dog. But, according to one study, sometimes all it takes is a pat on the head to reassure your precious pooch that you're not abandoning him.
According to a study published in the September-October 2018 issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, gently petting a dog before leaving can minimize the animal's stress response.
"This pilot study suggests that petting a dog before a brief separation from the owner may have a positive effect, making the dog calmer during the separation itself," Chiara Mariti, lead author and senior researcher at the University of Pisa in Italy, wrote.
Researchers found that when dogs were petted before separation, they displayed behaviors "indicative of calmness" for a longer period than dogs that weren't petted. The heart rate of the pups that received pets also showed a "marked decrease" compared to their non-petted counterparts.
It's important to note that the dogs in the study weren't "affected by separation-related" problems like anxiety. Given this, researchers concluded that more tests are needed "especially in dogs affected by separation anxiety."
While a gentle parting touch might not be enough to console every dog, the study does suggest that the old advice not to pet a dog before departure may be wrong.
But, as Marc Bekoff Ph.D., professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, warned in a blog post for Psychology Today, "generalizations about what to do when leaving a dog can be very misleading."
According to Bekoff, "it's essential to look at each dog as the individual who they are, so it's possible that some dogs might be better off when their human pets them rather than when their human softly says goodbye, and some might be better off when their human simply leaves them without doing or saying anything."
Basically, you know your dog better than anyone. If you think your pup might benefit from a goodbye pet before you leave the house, by all means, pet away. Chances are good that simple gesture will make his whole day.