The study published in PLOS One measured the brain activity of 19 healthy participants during 108 sessions. During 53 sessions, participants interacted with dogs trained to work with hospitalized patients. All 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 stuffed animal. The stuffed lion was filled with a hot water bottle to mimic the warmth and weight of a real dog.
Both conditions stimulated brain activity. However, the scans showed more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex when people interacted with the dog rather than the stuffed animal. The prefrontal cortex involves executive functions such as decision making, personality expression, social behavior (impulse inhibition), and future planning (eg. science of psychotherapy). The researchers who conducted the study concluded that connecting with dogs can improve attention, boost learning abilities, and be useful as a therapeutic intervention to improve emotional engagement.
According Health line, the study suggests dogs may improve the effectiveness of therapies for depression, dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Companion animals such as dogs can and should be considered an important treatment option for patients of all ages facing a number of physical or mental health issues,” said Dr. David A. Merrill, psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute of the Pacific. Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, Healthline told Healthline.