Running with your Dog to Feel Good
Before we start our post, we want to announce the return of K9 Kamp! Yes, Summer 2014 K9 Kamp is schedule to kick-off next Friday. Our theme for Kamp is Backyard Games. There’s so much to tell you about and so many prizes to show you, we’ve put it all into a separate post. Read all about Summer ’14 K9 Kamp.
This is our fourth and final installment of the benefits of running with your dog series. We have already written about how running can help keep the mind sharp, prevent disease, and keep you both lean. As it turns out, running with your dog can help make you both feel great too.
What is Runner’s High?
As an endurance athlete and overall exercise-a-holic, I have long experienced the joy of what has been called “Runner’s High”. For those who don’t know, runner’s high is an overall feeling of well being, some say it is like getting high, which happens during and after intense exercise. It is a truly amazing feeling without the downside of other approaches to getting high, like alcohol or drugs. I often argue that people who experience this are more likely to stick to exercise programs over long periods of time because they become addicted to the feeling, while those that don’t experience runner’s high are more likely to abandon exercise and remain sedentary.
There have been many studies that describe the physical reactions to intense exercise and how this can lead to the euphoric feeling associated with runner’s high. Dr. Arne Dietrich is one of the thought leaders in this area and has helped to push forth the idea that it is endocannabinoids, natural opiates released in the body during intense exercise, that lead to this feeling. Dietrich’s (and other researcher’s) theories have always made sense to me and match with my personal experiences with high intensity training.
Running with a Dog to Feel Good? Runners High in Dogs.
The good news is that research supports the theory that dogs, like humans, will also experience the euphoric feeling that comes from high intensity exercise.
A 2012 paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, titled “Wired to Run,” examined endocannabinoids (ecbs) in a small number of fit people, as well as in dogs and ferrets. The ferrets were included in the study because unlike dogs, they are not predisposed to endurance activities.
The researchers took blood samples before and after a treadmill run and found that endocannabinoid levels, as measured by anandamide (a chemical produced naturally by the body) increased in both humans and dogs afterwards. For ferrets, the change in anandamide levels was not statistically significant. The graph below, taken from the research paper, shows the changes in ecbs. Panel A shows ecb levels before (white) and after (black) running and Panel B shows before and after walking. It is interesting to note how ecb levels declined in both humans and dogs after walking (although the human change was not significant).
This research suggests that your dog can experience runner’s high from intense activity and could be a partial explanation for the old adage, “a well exercised dog is a well behaved dog”. Running your dog could make them feel good and thus behave ‘better’!
I don’t know about most other pet owners, but I can see how “happy” SlimDoggy Jack is during and after our runs together. There is little doubt that he is “getting high” with me when we run together based on his expressions and overall body language. You could even go as far as running had saved Jack from a life in a cage. He was poorly behaved, fat, and essentially unadoptable when we rescued him and proper exercise and diet have transformed him to a happy and healthy dog.
What about you? Does your dog get high on your runs? Have you ever noticed their expressions or mood changes before and after a bout of intense exercise? Share your experiences in the comments below.
References and Further Reading