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Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFTOndina Nandine Hatvany, MFT
Partner's Sweetspot: Advice + Tips for Happy + Healthy Relationships

This Holiday Season Practice "Doggy Medicine" for a Happy Relationship

Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFT Updated: Dec 20th 2010

"I'm exhausted," complained my client Maggy. "Rick and I are fighting all the time, our 3-year-old is sick, my mom is doing her usual holiday madness...I don't know how to cope!" Rick gave a depressed but affirmative nod.

woman hugging a dogSound familiar?

Are you wondering how to put the "happy" back in "Happy Holidays"?

Recently I've been talking a lot with my couples about practicing what I call "doggy medicine." Doggy medicine can apply to almost anyone, regardless of whether you own a dog (or your dog owns you!) or there is no dog in your life.

What exactly is "doggy medicine"?

Doggy medicine is a tool I've developed to help couples improve the way they interact with each other. Let's take Maggy and Rick for instance. They can barely make time for themselves let alone each other. It seems that fighting is the main way they currently connect. They are tired and angry and depleted. The following is a dialogue from one of our sessions where I explained to Maggy and Rick how to use doggy medicine to enhance their relationship.

"When you come home, who greets you?" I ask Maggy.

"Well, I guess Latte," says Maggy, wondering where I'm going with this. Latte is Maggy and Rick's dog.

"Yes, and how does she greet you?" I continued. "It's all tails and wags, isn't it? She makes it really obvious that she is happy to see you. How is that for you?"

Maggy smiles. She says softly, "It's the best feeling in the world."

"What happens when Rick gets home?" I ask.

"Well, yesterday I was tired and had a headache. I yelled at him from the other room if he'd remembered to pick up medicine for Lucy (their 3-year-old.) He hadn't. This really pissed me off. We were fighting within two minutes of him stepping in the door," Maggy says with a sigh.

"Here is where doggy medicine comes in," I tell her. "I want you both to practice greeting each other just like Latte greets you, regardless of what mood you are in and before you say anything to each other about the to-do's."

What I am advising Maggy and Rick to do is to practice connecting non-verbally, with their eyes and bodies. It could be as simple as looking at each other and giving each other a hug. It can take a second or last a few minutes-it doesn't have to take a long time. The important thing is that a heartfelt connection is made that is free from judgment and that also affirms their relationship as coming first and foremost before all those to-do's.

Simple instructions, but does this work?

Research shows that when we are physically close with our partners, whether that is hugging, cuddling or having sex, our bodies are flooded with "the cuddle hormones," oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones tend to turn on reward centers in the brain, flooding us with calm and happiness chemicals like dopamine and turning off stress hormones like cortisol.

When is the best time for doggy medicine?

I recommend practicing doggy medicine during the four important transition times of the day:

1) When you wake up
2) When you part ways (usually at the beginning of the day)
3) When you reunite (usually at the end of the day)
4) When you go to sleep

Outside of these transition moments, doggy medicine can be applied anytime and anywhere. In particular, it is useful during moments of stress. Try it. It might not be your first inclination to ask for a hug when you are stressed and it might even feel very vulnerable, but I guarantee that it will produce much better results than yelling at your partner!

Try doggy medicine with your partner this holiday season and fill your holidays with some cuddle hormones. Oh, and don't forget to thank your dog (or your neighbor's dog if you don't have one) for such great modeling on keeping it simple and staying in connection!

Happy Holidays!


Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFT

Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFT is a licensed psychotherapist with practices in both Mill Valley and the Castro, San Francisco. Her specialty is queer, alternative and traditional relationships. She also works with singles wanting to improve or/ and find relationship. She is the former Director of the Eating Disorders program at the Community Institute of Psychotherapy in San Rafael, CA. For more information and articles, podcasts and interviews by Ondina Nandine Hatvany, MFT, please visit her website: Contact her confidential office line at (415) 381-1065 or e-mail her at

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

thanks! - Ondina - Dec 24th 2010

thank you!

thanks - - Dec 21st 2010

Very nice article. I loved it.

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