Remember last Valentine’s Day? It was back in the beforetimes, when getting together with friends, family, and folks you loved was a regular way of life.

For many of us, it’s been a long, lonely year since. 

But even as we’re staring down this Valentine’s Day still in social-distancing mode, let’s take a moment to celebrate the unconditional loves in our lives. You know, the ones who accept us — and our newfound preference for sweatpants — without question every single day. 

Who do we mean? Our dogs, of course!

All kidding aside, your dog may be your best Valentine’s Day date idea ever. Science is real, and it has come out with sound evidence of something dog owners have known all along: the canine cuddlers we care about so much are some of the lovingest, healthiest relationships in our lives. 

So check out the facts, and get set to celebrate your best, slobbery sweetheart.

A new look at puppy love

Scientists used to say that because we take care of a beloved pup’s need for food, water, shelter, and daily play that our dogs see us as important protectors in their pack and nothing more. It might look a lot like love, but scientists said nope. 

Now, new research says there may be love in the air after all. Clive Wynne, founder of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, has become convinced that dogs feel a genuine warmth and affection for their owners. Ergo, we may as well call it love, actually. 

Dog owners know that our pooches are big goofballs. Turns out that some doggy characteristics that in the past had been attributed to intelligence are really their gregarious and “hypersociable” nature — in other words, their capacity for love!

Turns out that oxytocin, the chemical that creates emotional bonds, spikes in dog brains when they stare into the eyes of that special human. And you know what it resembles? The activity seen in the brains of moms and babies when they gaze at each other. Scientific evidence of love! What better reason to make Valentines for the dogs in your life this year?

Dogs also have a gene mutation that in humans causes something called Williams syndrome. People with Williams syndrome — and apparently dogs, too — are exceptionally gregarious. Dogs, like people with Williams syndrome, have a strong drive to form warm personal relationships enabling them to love and be loved.

More love means more health

Science says love is good for human health. Not only that, puppy love may be one of the best kinds you can get. Studies show that quality time spent with your dog (Valentine’s Day idea, anyone?) is great for physical and emotional wellbeing. Feeling skeptical? Check out these 5 proven benefits of dog ownership:

  1. Dogs are adorable and make humans happy. Did you know dogfaces trigger an innate caregiver response in humans? The term “furbaby” is no joke — goofy big eyes and floppy ears signal an infant schema to our brains, making us want to give out some cuddly love. Just looking at a dog can boost your mood by boosting your brain’s oxytocin. It’s science!
  2. It’s tough to be lonely when you have a dog. Why did we see a dog adoption wave in 2020? Because owning a dog defeats social isolation, and keeps us from feeling so alone. To put this in perspective, know that social isolation can be as dangerous to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! All that dog cuddling and goofing around can make a big difference during dark days — and dogs are always there for us regardless of what’s happening in our newsfeed or social circles.
  3. Dogs keep you calm and carrying on. Got a worried mind? Here’s an idea: cuddle with a dog this Valentine’s day. Dogs help us handle anxiety and recover from trauma. Service dogs have long been known to help humans with PTSD. But petting any friendly dog for just 10 minutes lets muscles relax, heart rates slow, blood pressures ease — so we end up with fewer stress hormones in our brains. It’s instant meditation for dog lovers!
  4. Dogs make us more active — and attractive! Are you taking care of your dog, or is your dog taking care of you? Both! All those trips to the dog park make dog owners 4x more likely to get the physical activity they need to be healthy. Health makes us attractive, and so does a dog — even in online photos! Walking a dog makes it easier to make friends. Finally, loving a dog tends to make us feel more connected across human relationships.
  5. Dog owners actually live longer. Know the best thing a dog-enriched life can get you? More years to enjoy it! A careful review of studies back to 1050 showed dog ownership reduces our risk of death. Especially as we grow old together, dogs improve brain function and decrease stress — a major factor in heart health. Humans living with dogs after serious coronary events showed even greater reduction in death risk. 

Celebrate your dog’s unconditional love for Valentine’s Day

Here’s a new idea for celebrating Valentine’s Day with your dog: plan a pawsome date with your favorite source of floppy, goofy, gregarious, unconditional love. Look for fun ways to thank your dog for the way they’ve helped you get through recent tough times.

You can also plan an extra special Valentine’s Day dinner for your dog. Skip the kibble, and opt for a fresh, whole food formula like A Pup Above. They offer a handy sampler pack so your favorite canine can try out all the flavors — each is extra scrumptious for dogs due to a gentle cooking process that yields a natural, hydrating gravy. Plus, your dog’s digestion will thank you for a break from over-processed dry foods. 

Photo credit: @louiearoundtown

The next time someone asks why you you are willing to put up with all the work — and various shenanigans — that comes with responsible dog ownership, just tell them this: 

My dog loves me unconditionally, and that makes me a healthier, happier human. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!