You know how good you feel after a run? Can my dog get that, too?
Answer: “Runner’s high” is often described as a state of euphoria, peace, or serenity experienced after a bout of endurance exercise. Researchers believe it’s related to an exercise-induced release of neurotransmitters including endorphins and endocannabinoids, chemicals in the brain thought to be involved in regulating mood and pain.
In 2008, German researchers showed for the first time that the “high” athletes feel after running positively correlates to the amount of endorphins released in the brain. In other words, the better the athletes tested felt, the more endorphins were circulating in their brains.
In 2012, Dr. David Raichlen, an associate professor in the University of Arizona’s School of Anthropology, showed thatexercise intensity plays a major role in whether or not an athlete will get a runner’s high. Moderate intensity, he found—exercising at 60 to 80 percent of max heart rate—is associated with the highest levels of endocannabinoids circulating in the blood stream. Low-intensity activities like walking don’t cut it, and neither does pushing it to 90 percent of max heart rate.
So what does this mean for your dog? In another study published in 2012, Raichlen found that dogs, like humans, experience peak endocannabinoid activity following moderate-intensity exercise. In other words, yes, dogs experience a chemical change similar to that found in humans, though we’ll never know if it induces the same euphoric feeling in our four-legged friends.
So how do you get your dog high? Just like with people, walking won’t work. Running at a moderate pace—for your dog, not for you—should do the trick, Raichlen supposes. In his study, dogs ran on a treadmill at a pace, determined by the dog’s body size, of about 70 percent max heart rate.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Yes, dogs can get a similar boost in feel-good, pain killing chemicals following moderate-intensity exercise. Whether your dog then experiences a moment of clarity, serenity, or euphoria, however, we’ll never know.