It will come as no surprise to animal lovers that watching dog videos reduces stress and improves wellbeing – but it might that there’s research to back it up.
Last night I was working late when a text from a family member came in with a video and a note that read simply, “Try not to smile.”
I clicked play and giggled within seconds as puppies raced toward people against a backdrop of ominous music. Then an upbeat tune played as “Rise of the Puppy Swarms” filled the screen. I couldn’t stop grinning. When it was done a few minutes later, I gave each of my dogs a treat and kept working, feeling lighter.
Scientists have taken notice of what most of us already knew — and that’s a good thing for people who don’t have their own dogs.
In November 2021, researchers from the Department of Psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, published a study titled “The Effect of Dog Videos on Subjective and Physiological Responses to Stress.”
In the study’s abstract, the researchers noted that while research has indicated that animal-assisted therapy programs can reduce stress responses, animals aren’t always allowed in public settings (Exhibit A: coronavirus pandemic restrictions).
The study set out to determine if watching a video of an active dog can help improve the response to stress more than a video of a tranquil dog, whether exposure to dog videos can improve “subjective and physiological stress responses” more than watching nature videos, and whether watching either kind of video is more beneficial than watching a control video – i.e., a blank screen.
After finishing a stressful task, 103 participants (78 women and 25 men) each watched a randomly assigned video, including a dog playing with a toy, a dog resting, a waterfall flowing in a forest, a slow-moving stream, or a black screen.
Ultimately, watching dog videos – either active or tranquil – showed the most positive effects: decreasing anxiety and increasing happiness.
The researchers concluded that the findings have implications for helping improve subjective anxiety in public settings like universities when animals aren’t permitted to visit.
This supports research and anecdotal evidence generated during the pandemic by the nonprofit therapy animal organization Pet Partners, according to Elisabeth Van Every, senior communications specialist.
“It is not surprising to us because we did some of the background work on this last year, early in the pandemic,” she said. “This falls under the umbrella of what we termed ‘Animal-Related Engagement,’ where there is a significant body of research showing that even if you’re not interacting with an animal in person, watching a video or doing something that is otherwise related to an animal – for example, if kids were doing a spelling game or reading game that involved talking about animals – it has the same effects as if you were interacting with the animal in person. It helps reduce stress. It helps bring that sense of connection with the animal, with the natural world.”
To that end, many Pet Partners volunteers have held virtual visits with their dogs and other pets – both live and recorded – and found other ways to offer animal-related engagement when in-person visits aren’t a possibility. For instance, one woman created note cards with her dog’s paw print and sent it to an assisted-living facility. Another provided a virtual visit to a hospital patient who missed seeing her dog – and sent a trading card with the dog’s photo.
“After the visit was over, one of his nurses came in and he waved the trading card at her and said, ‘Look – I got to see a dog after all.’ So it provided a sense of joy and some relief from being in the hospital, even though the dog couldn’t be there in person,” she shared. “That opportunity to make that connection – even through a screen – still has value.”
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Award-winning journalist Jen Reeder is former president of the Dog Writers Association of America.
Published January 3, 2022