Imagine being able to make a real positive impact in just 15 minutes. A study has revealed that’s all it takes to make a difference in the life of a dog.
It’s been well documented that human interaction has positive effects on dogs in general, but a study we led found out that just a single session of close human interaction with even an unfamiliar person has a measurable impact on shelter dogs, in terms of behavioral and physiological changes. This impact is visible in dogs that have displayed anxious behaviors, as well as those which have not.
For dogs 15 minutes of “close interaction,” defined in the study as time with a person that includes petting and being spoken to in a calm manner, lowers a dog’s heart rate and positively impacts his or her behavior.
The Power of Your Calm
Because dogs depend on us to decipher their concerns, and make them feel safe and secure, it is up to pet owners to be patient and persistent, especially for dogs who display anxious behaviors such as excessive vocalization like barking and whining, or other behaviors like jumping, pacing, and spinning.
Many dogs show less stress in a new situation if a human is with them compared to when they are alone. Based on available evidence, it is reasonable to assume that dogs quickly form attachments with people and interaction involving calm petting or speaking with a soothing tone of voice helps dogs achieve a calm, relaxed emotional state.
15 Minutes to Help Your Pet
15 minutes made a difference for Alex Johnson, Manager, Strategic Planning Pet Enrichment Specialist at Purina, and her Australian Cattle Dog, Namatjira. Fondly referred to as a professional animal lover by her peers and family, Alex has spent her personal and professional pursuits working with diverse animals and has dedicated her career to animal enrichment. After being introduced to our study, she decided to implement its findings. For one week, at precisely 5 p.m., Alex dedicated 15 minutes of “focused petting” with Namatjira.
“The difference at the end of the week was incredible. I witnessed firsthand the changes in our bond. Namatjira would come right up to me at exactly 5 p.m. and look forward to his petting time,” says Alex. “I also became the favorite in the house and Namatjira just seemed overall happier.”
15 Minutes to Help Shelter Dogs
While our pets may benefit from the close interaction detailed in the study, the impact it can have on dogs beyond the confines of our homes is immeasurable and potentially life changing. For the Purina Pet Welfare team, its 47 Shelter Champions, and the more than 11,000 shelters and rescue organizations listed on Petfinder.com, 15 minutes from volunteers can help bridge the adoption gap for a dog looking for a forever home.
15 minutes is plenty of time for Brittany Harris, former Creative Project Manager at Purina, to forge a life-changing connection with adoptable dogs at her local shelter. Brittany signed up to walk dogs after seeing a call-to-action post on social media and knowing how desperate some shelters are for volunteers. As an owner of three dogs, Brittany admits she is an avid dog and animal lover and says her experience has been emotional but rewarding.
“I keep volunteering because I can witness how the 15 minutes of alone time I get with each of the dogs makes such a difference in their demeanor. They benefit so much from personal human interaction and walks outside. I can see their excitement when they roll around in the grass and some even get a case of the ‘zoomies’,” she says.
Brittany admits growing close to several dogs that were eventually adopted. Alundra was a shelter dog that Brittany spent a lot of time with, and Brittany feels that her focused play and snuggle times during their visits together helped Alundra flourish in her new forever home.
“I still keep in touch with some of the adopted dogs’ families and love hearing about how they’re doing. To me, these 15-minute sessions pass quickly, but for these adoptable pets, they are moments that help change their lives forever.”
“In a year, Petfinder helped shelters and rescue organizations find homes for more than 1.8 million pets by connecting families with adoptable pets. But there is always so much more we can do,” says Jessica Arnold, who works on the Purina Pet Welfare team. “There are so many organizations and shelters that could use extra hands and that precious 15 minutes of volunteer time.”
Can You Spare Some Time to Help?
15 minutes is all that is necessary to make a difference that could initially impact the life of a pet, which then has cascading benefits for families and communities. Now, can you spare 15 minutes to pet your own dog or dedicate some time to get to a shelter and show them some love?
Find a shelter or local rescue organization through Petfinder, the largest online pet adoption website in North America. Search for a shelter or a rescue organization by state here. You can also find a participating Purina shelter through Purina’s Shelter Champions network.
Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan PhD
Dr. Ragen McGowan is a research scientist in pet behavior and welfare who has been with Purina for more than 10 years. She earned bachelor’s degrees in Zoology and Foreign Language and a PhD in Applied Ethology from Washington State University.
For more than 20 years, Dr. McGowan has been involved in animal behavior research, using a holistic approach that incorporates behavior, physiology and endocrinology.
Her post-doctoral research focused on emotionality in dogs and explored new methodology to objectively evaluate positive emotions, including studying the “Eureka Effect” (emotional reactions to learning). Through her research, Dr. McGowan aims to create products that cater to pets’ behavioral and emotional needs, and to better understand the human-animal bond from the pet’s perspective. Dr. McGowan has a passion for sharing her vast knowledge of pet behavior and the human-animal bond. In addition to speaking at a variety of events for Purina, she is a contributing scientific expert for the Collegiate Animal Welfare Competition, Companion Animal Nutrition Summit, Gut Microbiome Roundtable and Dognition podcast. Dr. McGowan lives in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, two children and two giant rescue dogs, Luna and Perry.