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Wellness Check: Understanding dog psychology and their connection to people

Posted at 7:16 AM, Jun 24, 2022

If you’re a dog parent, you might say to yourself: “My pet makes life one hundred times better.”

But does science suggest the same?

3 New Now anchor Vanessa Villafuerte took a look at the psychological benefits of owning a dog in this week’s Wellness Check.

If you’ve ever wondered what your furry friend might be thinking or feeling, you’re not alone.

"We're interested in understanding dogs,” Jeff Stevens, Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said. “Dog psychology, aspects of their behavior, why they do what they do, but we're also interested in humans and how they influence humans."

Researchers at the Canine Cognition and Human Interaction lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln study exactly that: dogs, and how they influence, communicate and interact with humans.

As a dog owner, Vanessa had to see how her English Bulldog, Frankie, would do in the lab’s most recent study.

"We were interested in how dogs pay attention to the kinds of communication signals that we give them,” Stevens said. “We point, we talk to dogs, we communicate with them, and we want to understand how well they understand what we're saying, how much they know our communication."

In other words, we wanted to find out if Frankie could follow cues, pointing to those treats.

"We're basically seeing how good dogs are at paying attention to human signals,” Stevens said. “Do they really see the signals that we give as true communication, as trying to communicate with them?”

Others got the chance to participate in the research too, including a dog named Luna and her owner, Ava Clark.

"I was surprised at how well she did when I told her to leave the treats and walk out of the room,” Clark said. “I think she's really smart and I think she's really obedient, but I think it was really interesting to see how long she could resist the treats."

Stevens said they also study how interactions with dogs can influence memory. While the results were mixed, one thing was certain:

"What we did find, [we] measured the participant's stress and anxiety levels and found that there was definitely an effect there,” Stevens said. “The group that interacted with the dog had reduced stress, reduced anxiety, higher positive mode, lower negative mood, so it clearly influenced the kind of emotional state of people."

So, next time you’re feeling down, make sure to give your best pal a hug and wait for the stress to lift.

Stevens said the lab is always looking for new participants in future studies. To learn more, visit

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