Shinrin-yoku (forest-bathing) as a Factor in Canine Well-Being
This pilot study examined the potential stress reduction benefits produced by both play and exposure to a novel forest condition in five average dogs. Studies on the effects of Shinrin-yoku (forest-bathing) on urban city dwellers have described significant decreases in cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate, and sympathetic nerve activity after only 20 minutes of exposure. Comparable reductions in canine cortisol levels have been reported after short play sessions in working and shelter populations. Based upon these health outcomes, this study considered the potential health benefits for dogs gained from playing in a novel forest setting compared to their urban home settings. Salivary cortisol measurements were taken from five canines pre and 20-minutes post play in each condition. Statistical analyses revealed no significant effect (p >.05) from either the forest intervention or play. While the results were unable to support the current findings and the initial assumptions of this study, these findings may suggest instead that the average family dog’s stress levels are lower in many conditions due to their unique position and relationship with their established families. Since this is the first time cortisol has been evaluated in a normal canine population, this may account for the non-significant findings as none of the participants were working or living under stressful conditions that are associated with elevated cortisol levels. Taking this significant difference in populations into account, a new interpretation of the results is presented based upon Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that suggests the frequent interactions common to canine-guardian relationships and the family setting are already meeting the well-being and health needs of these dogs. While additional research is needed, the inclusion of this alternative interpretation of cortisol results may prove valuable when assessing outcomes of specific populations.