S1E31 Dogs and Well being

People and animals benefit from one another biologically, psychologically, and more.  Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin discuss the evolutionary history of the relationship between dogs and humans  (you can learn more here:, as well as share their love for dogs (no offense cat people), and identify how behavioral science is related to dog ownership.




Pete: It’s the episode we've been waiting for Nikki.

Nikki: I know.

Pete: Dogs.

Nikki: Dogs, sorry cat people.

Pete: Are we though sorry, not sorry.

Nikki: Sorry, not sorry, yes. Well, sorry just like, they're all saying this going like whatever.

Pete: Well, they've already clicked off so now they're gone, so it fine.

Nikki: You’re right, so they didn't even click on it.

Pete: They didn’t click on it because the tittle…

Nikki: They’re like, Yeah; I don't want anything to do with that. Their slavery, I don't want to, yeah.

Pete: We are a little biased. We’re very biased.

Nikki: A little? Well, let’s just say it, we’re strange.

Pete: Yeah, we come from dog families, we have our dogs, we love dogs. I have said, and I say this to my clients, I like dogs better than humans.

Nikki: I also say that, well, you know what I like to say this?

Pete: What do you say?

Nikki: This is a mean joke people, I'll say, dogs are so much better than humans and I should know I'm a clinical psychologist.

Pete: That's right. That's right. Yeah.

Nikki: But I also love humans, obviously.

Pete: I've said that on a call the other day with a bunch of athletic folks and when I said it, they were like Dr. Pete coming from you. And I'm like, well, that's me. Isn't that validating folks?

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: Because your struggle with the person in the office next to you. And this is exactly why because my dogs are happy every time I get home.

Nikki: That's right. That's right.

Pete: So, this episode we're going to talk about the behaviorism of dogs, which I will say and Nikki, may I just call you out for a moment, please?

Nikki: Please, yes.

Pete: You're going to tell the story.

Nikki: Oh, I know what it is. Yeah, I’m going to tell the story. I think I’ve said it on here before.

Pete: You have but for those that haven't heard it, that Nikki has liked my aunt dog or my like, what is?

Nikki: I had.

Pete: She had. I know but in our hearts she’s is still...

Nikki: Yes. She's spiritually still the, she's like the…

Pete: What was she to me?

Nikki: She's like the mother.

Pete: She was like the mother hen.

Nikki: She was like the mother hen; she was like the Queen B.

Pete: Lola was her name.

Nikki: Her name is Lola. Yeah.

Pete: And so there's Nikki as a behaviorist and a very talented one. With a not very well behaved dog.

Nikki: Beyond the reason, the joke I would say. So I had her for 15 years. She lived to be 15, she's a golden retriever.

Pete: She had a great life.

Nikki: She had a really epic life. And I mean part of the reason in my defense that she wasn't super well trained was that she was sort of like a human and a dog suit. Like she was [inaudible 02:45] there are certain dogs that you see like there's something like I say my dog now, my dog Toby where I'm like, looking there. I'm like Toby's a dog. Like there's nothing behind there but a dog's brain. Lola, I was like, I don't know what reincarnated human lives inside of your body, but there's an old soul in there. So she was too smart for and good but when people would say like, she's not very well trained, I would say, well, I got her when I was in college. And in college I was not a psychology major, I was a literature and creative writing major. And so I told this to Pete when we first met and he said that to me, I was like, yeah, Lola is the dog of a 20 year old Creative Writing major.

Pete: She sure is.

Nikki: She was not the dog of a psychologist who specializes in behaviorism.

Pete: No. And she was wonderful, but that being said she the greatest disposition, she was wonderful with other dogs, wonderful with other humans, but she was willful so when she wanted to go somewhere, she just went.

Nikki: She was extreme.

Pete: But a golden retriever, which is part of the breed a little bit, I think.

Nikki: A little bit. Yes. But yeah, she knew there was a tennis ball in the house somewhere. Even if we I brought her to someone's house and they swirl the tennis balls were put away she would find it. And she chose not to have them because she ate one once and almost died. Yeah.

Pete: And so anytime she came over, I had to go through my entire house and take all the toys away.

Nikki: She would still find them, right?

Pete: Well, she probably did in our house, yeah, because they were like, on the couches and everywhere.

Nikki: Yeah, she’d find them like behind the VCR once [inaudible 04:15]

Pete: And now you've got Toby which is another golden retriever so you're very [inaudible 04:18] person. I have Tabitha and Marco. I grew up with dogs; you grew up with golden retrievers.

Nikki: I grew up with golden retrievers. My dad had one in college also, a gold retriever.

Pete: Yeah. And so if nothing else, you take away from this, people with dogs actually live longer, have better cardiovascular functioning. And that is related to the oxytocin that is produced both by you know, just from touching an animal. It's also by like, breastfeeding and sex and kissing.

Nikki:  Yes, and I love to share that with people, because oxytocin is like colloquially referred to as the love chemical. It's like the bonding chemical, the attachment chemical what we bond with other beings and so yeah I like to explain it and so yes it's released during childbirth and breastfeeding and during sex.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: It's also released when we touch an animal so when you're petting not just the dog, it could be other animal as well.

Pete: I was just going to say, hey cat people.

Nikki: Yeah cat people, if you tuned in here's a shout out if you made it this far. When you're petting your dog oxytocin is released in your brain and in your dog's brain.

Pete: Yeah, how amazing.

Nikki: Yeah, that’s so amazing.

Pete: Yeah. And match COC there was this study in 2015 found that there was improved cardiovascular function, like we said already, decreased loneliness and overall positive health outcomes. So we do see that people that are animal owners, and I was talking to him may have been on that sport call but or another colleague, who said to me, I'm always suspect when someone tells me they're allergic or don't like dogs.

Nikki: Yes. My former boss in New York when I worked, he used to say, that was the same thing he felt it was like a clinical assessment if people had no interest in animals at all. Though I do have to say, I do have a friend who is a psychologist is a wonderful, amazing human who had some negative experiences growing up and so that was it… so that can’t be a one size fits all.

Pete:  Of course. And by the way, so did I. I got bitten chased when I was like; I think it was [inaudible 06:30]

Nikki: Yeah, I got the same.

Pete: Did you? Yeah, like around the corner. And I was like, a little anxious kid on some level and varying parts. And so there was this road that my parents ever wanted us to go down and one day I did and I got like, chased and bit by a dog. And so for a while, I was very hesitant with dogs and now I do that with my nieces. Because with those two nieces that I've talked about on here. The older one is seemingly like to have some anxious presentations and she became like, just spontaneously more afraid of the dogs. And the other one is like sticking out her tongue and awkwardly making out with my dogs. It’s awkward, I said to my brother and sister-in-law, I'm like, that's awkward. You know, your, your daughter is like, obsessed. Like sometimes my niece was like, on the driveway drooling while Marco was like licking her.

Nikki: You know what is like very hilarious. I also think that there's like varying degrees like with literally anything in the brain of like, how oriented someone is towards animals, right and connection to them.

Pete: For sure.

Nikki: So like for you or me even having had negative experiences. Like for me, I even though I never was afraid of them and I was bit by a dog once when I was a kid. And I actually look back on that. I'm like, I can't believe like, I was obsessed with dogs my whole life, even you know. But I think part of that, too, is wiring. And so some people might just not be as oriented biologically.

Pete: So you think that people might be like, predisposed, in a way?

Nikki: Well, yeah, because I’m just saying this and so I’m not going to surprise anybody business episode, I love to read about, like the evolutionary history about the relationship between dogs and humans.

Pete: Of course

Nikki: Of course, I do. I just read another study the other day that was an article in The New York Times about it, you know, because it's important to recognize that it is a very ancient relationship between humans and dogs. And they do believe that there's like symbiotic relationship evolved, probably because it was wolves out there. The ancestors of wolves that we got protection from them and they from us, though, over time, like that couldn't have just been it that that we did grow to get emotional support and connection. That's where the oxytocin comes in. So just like with everything, there's something very old in our brains. Not everybody has that expression of it though, just like, not everybody has a phobia of snakes on the negative side, right?

Pete: That’s right.

Nikki: But we all sort of like have ancestors that were feared snakes for reasons that kept us safe. So, 40,000 years ago, we all had the ancestral experience of having a connection with canines.

Pete: Right. And so now, there are all these different programs out there. So, Fournier and colleagues had done a study, and there are lots of programs in prison systems now.

Nikki: I love these ones.

Pete: I know you would. And s so you’re using like fostering or even breeding. And they found that their improved social skills, they decreased the number of infractions, and increased community involvement. So again, if we think about that from a healing perspective, so there's a lot of this animal assisted therapy which many listeners may have heard of, like equine therapy with horses. I think this is certainly in true American form and use and abuse because we got peacocks and stuff like that on flights as of more… dogs.

Nikki: Right.

Pete: But as psychologists, I don't know, I mean, we write these letters because the truth is, they do help people now. And so I think, well, maybe there's one big differentiation here is that emotional support dog is not a service dog. Service dog is protected by federal law and they are trained from birth. Whereas, emotional support dog could be Toby, Tabitha, Marco, as long as they can pass training and get this certification. But I can't like go bring them into like a restaurant or supermarket because, I feel like I need that, you know, I can.

Nikki: Right. And I think that what understandably, you know, the criticism of that, of course, is going to be another episode is that, we all benefit psychologically, from having animals and dogs around. That's what he was talking about, really that episode and we do want to be mindful of, well, but do we need that like? versus like, somebody who, you know, I love the programs that exist, for example with veterans that Pete that have PTSD. There are a lot of programs where they have therapy dogs, and it reduces the symptom presentation, right? Like, that's something that needs that animal, which is different than just wanting the convenience of having the connection with your dog on an airplane, for example.

Pete: But also like, then for someone who's not sighted, for like a seeing eye dog.

Nikki: Yeah, of course.

Pete: That's much different need until we bring them on, you see my college campuses across the country during finals week. Because, finals week, we've seen increase of suicides and bringing dogs on has kind of decrease that at airports.

Nikki: And hospitals.

Pete: Hospitals, yeah, just walk it off.

Nikki: And then the animals and the dogs, they like it, too. I think that's also something to keep in mind is that they also benefit; it's a two way connection, right?

Pete: It is.

Nikki: Maybe a funny thing to say, but we can be like, pretty self-centered as human being.

Pete: We are?

Nikki: Yes, we can be so. And so I think even in this way there's obviously the focus is often on in the research, like, how is it helping humans? So I think we just want to keep coming back to it’s a bidirectional…

Pete: It’s also helping the dogs.

Nikki: Yeah, they to connect and I think that's what I find so deeply special about them as species, right. is that they have a drive to connect with other beings, right, both with humans and other dogs and sometimes other animals all the funny you know, like the videos you can see of like the dog and cat friend or whatever.

Pete: Yeah, I love those. So Tabitha, one of my dogs is certified therapy dog and Marco failed the test. So in a true like, he's just a boy, actually, because he couldn't separate from her. So there's certain things that they need to do.

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: And the last thing, you know, they have to sit if the state have to leave, basic commands they have to be able to be away from me. But the minute that they took him away from her, he was crying and he wanted to get back to her and he couldn't be like, yeah.

Nikki: He’s too attached.

Pete: Yeah. But we did Nikki tell the story of your bucket list experience that you and I had at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Nikki: Oh yeah, but I was like, what is he talking about?

Pete: Listeners, we do not prep any of this. Go ahead.

Nikki: Yeah. We really don't. It's a real moment of conversation. I can't remember I got the ticket is for this.

Pete: [Inaudible 13:40] westies, my colleague yeah. Oh, and thank you for the tickets.

Nikki: We went to the dog show, Madison Square Garden and we like went, I mean, if you guys didn't know already, like Pete and I are pretty big dorks. And I kept saying it was such a cultural experience for me because it was also like, very New York. So being the Angelino that I am some lovely women that came out from Long Island.

Pete: WE love them, they knew everything.

Nikki: Yes. They knew everything and I was like, this is cool. I was like, I am having a real New York experience and we got to go backstage and see all these amazing dogs and I was like, I'm into this.

Pete: Yeah, that was such a cool experience on so many levels and seeing it and I think just watching the Westminster on TV, sometimes I could do it. It's also it is a big responsibility having a dog or an animal, any animal.

Nikki: It is though very purposeful, right? I think it's like, you know, I have had patients ask me before like, is this a good idea? And I'm always like, I don't know mate, but it can orient your schedule, you get outside walk, you connect with other people. It can also oh; I'll add this dorky behaviorism plug. When you're working with a dog trainer, or you're learning on your own, you are using operant conditioning, which is the same type of behavioral theory that we use in cognitive behavioral therapy is the same stuff. So there's actually a great book that a lot of like new students to behaviorism like doctoral students read, which is called ‘don't shoot the dog.’

Pete: It is called don't shoot the dog. [Inaudible 15:27]

Nikki: Yeah. Was it like a former dolphin trainer wrote it or something?

Pete: I don't know actually who she is. I should know that. Yeah, I don't know.

Nikki: Anyway, that's a great book if somebody is interested in both the dog training and also just like, how does this apply to human behavior?

Pete: It absolutely does.

Nikki: Great.

Pete: So this was like so much fun. And just for the listeners out there, again, any kind of animals the touch oxytocin, improves cardio health decreases loneliness. There are programs out there where we're utilizing dogs to benefit various populations and help you to just stay organized. If you're thinking about getting a dog, dogs are special.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West. I'm Dr. Pete Economou.

 Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin, be present, be brave.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West all material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors Pete Economou, and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.