Friday, April 27, 2012

The Runner's..err Dog's High

You might have already seen the New York Times article about getting to the root of the so called "runner's high" by now, but what really caught my attention in the article was the proven concept that it applies to dogs.  To me, this explains a lot!  As you probably know by now, Tucker is one lean, mean, running machine.  And if you follow me on Twitter, you probably see my near daily post-run tweets about what interesting factoid came about during our run.  Yes, our.  I run a lot with Tucker.  He's become a pretty fit dog.  Except for the heat.  Once that hits, he drags.  But in under 70 degrees, he's flying!  And aside from the obvious point that no running means he has more energy to spend elsewhere, once we go for a run, we always return and he is much more calm.  It should come as no surprise, but I've got a dog addicted to running, and it may be because he likes the runner's high just as much as I do!

So back to the story...Here is the meat of the article that gets to the study and what they did:

But Dr. Raichlen wondered if the endocannabinoids had had a more momentous role in the development of mankind as a whole. Had we continued to run, as a species, not because we had to run, but because we had become hard-wired to like it?

To test that idea, Dr. Raichlen and his colleagues decided to compare the endocannabinoid response to running in species that both do and do not historically run — to see, in other words, which animals experience a runner’s high.

Ferrets were chosen to represent the nonrunners (mostly because, Dr. Raichlen says, “we could adopt them out into the community afterward,” unlike other local noncursorial animals like possums and skunks).

Humans and dogs became the designated cursorial, or distance running, species. The scientists recruited 10 local recreational runners and 8 dogs of various breeds.

They then took blood samples from all of the people and animals and, after some preliminary, gentle training (“using positive reinforcement,” Dr. Raichlen says), had each person or animal run on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a pace equivalent to about 70 percent of his, her or its maximum heart rate.

On a separate day, the people and dogs walked for 30 minutes on the treadmill, while the ferrets, which had found walking on the treadmill difficult to master, rested for 30 minutes in their cages.
The scientists drew blood after each session. They checked all of the samples for endocannabinoids.
It turned out that, as expected, the humans had shown significantly increased levels of endocannabinoids after running. So had the dogs, suggesting, for the first time, that they, too, experience a runner’s high.

But neither species had developed increased endocannabinoid levels after walking.
And the ferrets didn’t show higher endocannabinoid levels after either session. They gained, it seems, no neurobiological pleasure from running.

What these findings suggest, besides that ferrets will not make ideal training partners for marathon runners, is, Dr. Raichlen says, that “a reward response” to aerobic activity “appears to be part of our evolutionary history.”

Liking to run, it seems, may have helped to make humans what they are.

Obviously, running = playtime to dogs when you consider the alternative of sitting inside a home, so they look forward to any chance to get outside.  But for me at least, there is a big difference between Tucker's reaction when he sees his running leash vs his walking leash.  When I pull the running belt out from the bin, he know's its on.  If I pull the walking leash out, I get a ho hum reaction.


So what do you think?  Do you have a dog or other pet that has become addicted to running?  

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