Playing With Dogs Yields Powerful Burst Of Brain Activity Linked To Better Mood, Mental Sharpness

Dogs have been our faithful companions for millennia, but science is just beginning to unravel the fascinating effects that interacting with them has on our brains and emotions. A groundbreaking new study from researchers in South Korea provides compelling evidence that different types of activities with dogs – from playing and walking to giving them massages – can significantly impact key indicators of relaxation, attention, and positive mood in the human brain.

The research team, led by Dr. Sin-Ae Park of Konkuk University in Seoul, used high-tech wireless EEG devices to monitor the brain activity of 30 healthy adults as they spent time with a lovable 4-year-old Standard Poodle trained for animal-assisted activities. What they discovered was eye-opening.

Playing with and walking the dog resulted in significantly higher “alpha” brainwave activity in regions like the frontal lobes, which are involved in functions like attention, problem-solving and emotional regulation. The study, published in PLOS One, found this increased alpha power indeed gave participants greater relaxation, emotional stability, and “significantly lower stress.”

But the benefits didn’t stop there. Massaging and grooming the dog boosted “beta” brainwaves across multiple brain areas. Beta waves indicate an alert, focused state of mind. Researchers report that this increase in beta power suggests that participants’ were more attentive and had enhanced concentration during the testing.

An animal-assisted activity (hug) performed by a participant.
An animal-assisted activity (hug) performed by a study participant. (Credit: Yoo et al., 2024, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0 (

Perhaps most intriguing was that playing with the dog increased both alpha and beta together in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s control center for complex cognitive behaviors, personality, and decision-making. This suggests that playful interaction with dogs could promote a calm yet attentive mental state especially conducive to learning, creativity and emotional balance.

The participants’ subjective experiences aligned with the brainwave data. They reported feeling more comfortable and less stressed after all the dog activities. Walking the dog made them feel especially “natural”, while massaging the pup was ultra-relaxing.

Mood questionnaires also showed significant emotional perks, with dog playtime increasing vigor and every activity lowering fatigue and depression scores. Hugging, massaging and feeding the dog had the biggest positive impacts on overall mood.

So what is it about dogs that could explain these potent psychophysiological effects? Prior research offers some clues. Friendly interactions with dogs have been linked to increased levels of oxytocin, the “love hormone” that promotes bonding and well-being, and decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Gazing into our dogs’ eyes seems to spark a positive feedback loop of oxytocin release in both species that may have cemented our alliance over evolutionary time. Dogs can also pick up on and respond to human emotional states and communicative cues to a remarkable degree, which may help create a calming, understanding presence.

While more research is needed, this study provides a compelling glimpse into how dogs may be ideally suited – almost as if by design – to soothe our souls and enrich our minds through the simple magic of their companionship. The different activities tested could eventually be applied strategically in animal-assisted therapy programs.

As any dog lover can attest, our canine best friends lift our spirits, ease our worries and get us out into the world – and now we’re starting to understand the neuroscience behind why. Research continues to prove that the dog’s way may increasingly point us toward better health and happiness. Sometimes, the best medicine has a cold nose and a wagging tail.


  1. Keep your dog away from me. I don’t want to play with it. And please do not let your dog disturb me in any way. I do not love your dog. Please also keep your dog from public places. Your dog especially does not belong in a store. Bringing your dog to a store, when it is just a pet and not a guide dog for the blind, is a thoughtless and rude thing to do, to others and the animal. I view them as dangerous menaces.

  2. Calm down Karen (Bill). Sounds like you are the right person for a dog. Life is just not about you. How many time divorced

  3. To Bill:
    Different Strokes for Different Folks!
    I bet you kick small animals for fun!


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