Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Celebrating The Purest Bond With Jen Golbeck
[00:00:08] PF: Welcome to Happiness Unleashed with your host, Brittany Derrenbacher, presented by Live Happy. We know that the bonds we have with our pets are special, but today’s guest may have you thinking about that connection on a deeper level.
Jen Golbeck is the creator of social media’s popular channel, The Golden Ratio, dedicated to sharing photos and videos of her rescued golden retrievers. With her new book, The Purest Bond: Understanding the Human-Canine Connection, she provides the science behind those incredible bonds and offers new insight into how we can use that information to improve our relationships with our own animals. Listen in as Jen and Brittany talk about how our pets can improve our well-being, as well as our community.
[00:00:53] BD: Hi, Jen.
[00:00:54] JG: Hey, Brittany. How are you?
[00:00:55] BD: Good. It was so interesting because when we were looking for guests for the show, I was just looking on Amazon for books that were coming out. I saw your book and was just immediately drawn in because of the cover and the topic. But when I started reading your book, I realized that I had already followed you on Instagram. Yes. So tell us a little bit about The Golden Ratio.
[00:01:23] JG: Yes. So we rescue special needs Goldens, so a lot of seniors, medical cases, hospice cases, usually. Occasionally, somebody else sneaks in there. We’ve been doing that since – I guess 2016 is really when we grew from having a couple dogs in an occasional foster to four and five and six and sometimes seven. But, yes, it was after the 2016 presidential election, and like everybody was angry online, regardless of who they voted for. It was also the same time as Brexit, so everyone there was angry.
I was like I just need a corner of the Internet to take a break from all of this. I couldn’t really find it, and I was, “Well, poor Golden Retrievers,” at the time. Like that’s happy. So I started posting them, and it really resonated with people, both for kind of a wholesome little piece of online life and then also following the stories as we would take in senior dogs or dogs that came from really traumatic backgrounds and rehab them. I think everybody likes to see that really hopeful story unfold over time, see them get better, see them live their great life.
Even if it’s a hospice case, where we know that we don’t have a lot of time with them, to see them like get their first swim in the ocean or their first KONG and have a good couple months, even if that’s all they have left. I think it feels a need for people.
[00:02:44] BD: I love this. So I have the same background as you in the same year that my husband and I started our special needs rescue. It’s breed-specific with Boston Terriers. How long until you really started brainstorming writing this book?
[00:02:58] JG: So I had off and on thought about it because now across all the platforms, we have close to a million followers. It’s like a 100,000 on Instagram. I was finding that we were getting a lot of people coming to us for questions often around end-of-life issues or treating medical things. But also like as a scientist, my area of expertise isn’t animal science, but I have always followed these stories about the benefits that we get in our life from having dogs and read those articles.
But it was really the pandemic, early in lockdown, when everybody started rescuing dogs and bringing them in that I started talking with my agent, my book agent, to be like, “You know, there’s a book here about this idea where we can really share that science but also the really uplifting stories of how dogs have helped people in their lives and put that together in a happy book, which I feel like we don’t have a ton of happy books coming out lately.” So it was a great opportunity, and the pandemic kind of gave a little extra time to work on that and get this coming out now.
[00:04:05] BD: The title of your book is The Purest Bond: Understanding the Human-Canine Connection. I love this because the purpose of this podcast is to illuminate the gifts and the lessons and the magic that animals bring into our lives every day often in very unassuming ways. Every chapter of your book hit that on such beautiful notes. I actually wrote down a quote from the beginning of the book because I just felt like it was so spot-on with our message. You say that this book, the goal of it is to explore and illuminate the profound impact the human-canine connection can have on our physical, emotional, cognitive, and social health and well-being often without realizing it. I love that. It’s so spot-on to the message that we want for this podcast. That brings joy into people’s lives too. Like you said, it’s a happy topic, and we need that right now.
[00:05:01] JG: Yes. I think on one hand, when we were thinking about writing this book, it’s like who’s the audience for this. Is it people who are thinking about adopting a dog? You can hear mine maybe barking in the background. Is it for people who have dogs? I really think people who have dogs are going to come to this. On one hand, I’m not going to tell them anything they don’t know in terms of this being a really important connection. But I hope what I’m going to do is give language and kind of expand the understanding that they have about the role that dogs can play in their life.
[00:05:34] BD: I love that. Tell us more about what readers can expect from your book, The Purest Bond?
[00:05:42] JG: Yes. It’s both science and story. So you’re not going to get hit over the head with like really deep statistics or anything. We try to give like the good overview, so you get the gist of what the science was trying to achieve. But we want to ground all these insights in actual rigorous peer-reviewed scientific studies. So that will be everything from how do dogs help kids when they’re learning? How do dogs detect cancer in their owners or tell you when you’re having a heart attack. What role do service dogs play in the community? How are communities impacted by people having dogs and look at the research of that?
But we mix it with stories from a lot of people that we recruited on social media of the really profound personal impact that their dogs have had. So we can say, “Look, here’s a bunch science about how dogs’ noses work and how they can smell diseases or if we’re going to have a seizure.” Then we’re going to share some stories with you that people have given to us about how their dogs saved their life or saved their baby who was dying in a room, and they didn’t know, how they detected their cancer. You really get to see that on a science level and then in a really intimate personal level.
I mean, I’m so grateful that so many people trusted us with these really intimate stories. I think you’ve read them and you agree that you get these glimpses into sometimes dark and difficult points in people’s lives and how their dogs were really there for them. So I think it gives this well-rounded picture of how dogs help us and how we see it play out.
[00:07:13] BD: Yes. I felt as a reader that I was getting that dopamine hit as I was reading those personal stories from people. So I really appreciated that because when you get statistics and facts in a book but also paired with these really beautiful human stories and, I mean, very heart-centered stories, I just felt like it was the perfect balance.
[00:07:33] JG: I mean, that’s exactly what we wanted, right? That this isn’t – like I love all the dog science books that are out there. I have all of them. Even before I was writing this, I have them all. But I wanted to make sure like that this was a very heartfelt book, right? That there was soul in this book because that’s the critical thing about this relationship that it’s not just a bunch of statistics. It really is something that speaks to like the real depths of what makes us human.
[00:08:00] BD: What was the most surprising fact that you learned and you found out while you were researching for this book?
[00:08:06] JG: The one that I like the best which I wasn’t expecting was on one hand, we know if you have a dog, and you go out and walk them, that you learn who other people are in your neighborhood from their dogs. You often don’t know their names. I’m terrible at human names anyway, but like, “Oh, that’s Rufus’s dad, and that’s Phyto’s dad.” So, of course, like you get that connection if you’re out walking dog. Of course, science says like that makes us meet more people, and that’s great.
But a result that I was really surprised by is that scientists have found that in communities where there are more dogs, like if your neighborhood has more dogs, the community has a stronger sense of cohesiveness. Often, we’ll have like lower crime levels and better community participation, even if you don’t have a dog. It tends to because you see a lot of people in your neighborhood more, and you have a chance for positive interaction. Even if you don’t have a dog, you get to meet them. You get to see their dog.
So the presence of dogs in a neighborhood brings a greater sense of civic responsibility, a greater sense of community, connection, even to the people who don’t have dogs there. That really surprised me, but I think it’s beautiful. On reflection, it makes sense. It kind of carries over that benefit that we dog owners feel into the whole neighborhood.
[00:09:21] BD: I love the civic responsibility of that. We were talking about this on our last episode, just the benefits you can get just from petting. Like if you don’t have an animal, you don’t have a dog, and you’re out walking, and you get to pet your neighbor’s dog. You also get all of those feel-good hormones, and you get this very reciprocal exchange that can be healing in unassuming ways. So I love that.
[00:09:43] JG: Yes. I mean, it’s amazing that it’s only like a few minutes of petting a dog. Even if it’s a dog you don’t know, that you get all these like biological indicators of your stress levels going down, which is pretty amazing. So absolutely like ask to pet every dog that you go past if you get the chance.
[00:10:00] BD: Yes. In your opinion, what lessons do you think that we can learn from our dogs?
[00:10:06] JG: This is such a great question because it’s one that we’re looking into more in-depth for the book that we’re writing now, which is going to come out a couple years, November 2025. But really looking into like how our dogs think about things. So there’s an area of psychology. If you think about going to a therapist, right? Psychology is normally looking at stuff that’s going wrong with us and helping us fix it. But there’s a complementary area of psychology called positive psychology which is about like joy and happiness and gratitude and civic responsibility, loyalty, all these kind of good things because we want to make sure we’ve got a lot of those too.
What we found in this book, and we’re going to explore more in-depth over the next couple years, is that dogs have a lot of those positive psychology traits. They’re able to feel and show and express gratitude. We can kind of measure that scientifically. Obviously, they feel love. We talk about that in the book, how you can see the parts of their brain light up that you see in babies light up when they see their mother. Our dogs have that same activation when they see us. You can see it in the hormones that you measure in their blood, for example, that they really do love us back.
I think being able to be mindful and in the moment and forgiving, right? To be able to allow for people to change, it’s hard to do that as a human with other humans. But I think we can look to dogs. If you do rescue, you know this too, right? You can bring dogs in from really traumatic backgrounds, where they have no reason to trust or have joy or have anything good in their life based on what they’ve gone through. In like two months of being in a loving household, they’ll bond with you. It’s not like they’re completely over what was there, but they’re really able to embrace a new life and trust again.
I certainly aspire to have more of that kind of trait in my own life. It’s a thing that really inspires me watching my own dogs. I think in this book, we really see that they’re good at that. It’d be great if we all could be a little more like that.
[00:12:08] BD: Absolutely. When I think of all of the dogs that we’ve brought into our home and the conditions that they’ve come from and the neglect or maybe even just physical abuse, emotional abuse, just the amount of forgiveness and trust is so profoundly beautiful. I mean, you’re so right. That is a message that we can all take away from our relationships with our dogs and other animals as well.
[00:12:35] JG: For sure. I mean, if we could all be like that, especially like in our close personal relationships, right? Stop holding those grudges because the person you love did that one wrong thing that one time. That’d be better.
[00:12:48] BD: Can you talk a little bit more about the profound love connection that we share with our dogs?
[00:12:55] JG: This is really amazing. So we kind of came in with a little bit of research on oxytocin, which is this neurotransmitter. It’s a chemical that you can measure in your blood, and it’s kind of this feel-good hormone. So if you get an oxytocin hit, like that’s great. That’s what you want. Parents will often describe feeling it when they like cuddle with their newborns. It’s important for bonding, the release of this hormone. We know that if you stare into the eyes of your dog, you will get a release of this oxytocin. But your dog will, too.
I think this is so interesting, right? That it’s not just us feeling good because we’re with our dogs. For a long time, we tried to like dismiss and be like, “Dogs don’t really have the same kinds of emotions as people. They don’t really love you. They’re just operating on instinct.” That’s clearly not true. We know how these chemicals operate in people. We get them when we interact with our dogs, but the dogs get them too.
Then I had mentioned earlier, in people we look at a kind of relationship called an attachment bond. So in psychology, these are the bonds that infants form with their mothers primarily. If mothers and infants are looking into each other’s faces, this helps create the attachment bond. They do have this oxytocin, but it’s also like a psychological bond. Psychologists have done studies where they will use functional MRIs, FMRI machines. That’s the thing you’ve seen pictures of where like different parts of the brain light up. When they show infants pictures or play them the voice of their mothers, certain parts of their brain will light up. That really shows that there’s an attachment bond forming there. They don’t get it when it’s a stranger talking.
When dogs are put in an FMRI and they’re given the smell or shown a picture of their owner, the same part of their brain lights up. So we’ve been able to measure because we can talk to people that we feel like we have these really close attachment bonds to our dogs. They’re like the bonds we form with our closest family members. But it’s so interesting that our dogs form them back to us.
So it’s a real like deep biological and psychological connection that we form with each other. It’s not just one way. It’s not us kind of anthropomorphizing onto an object. They love us back, and they do it all the way down to like the deepest parts of their brain in biology, which I think is so beautiful and a really lovely way to like see the science play out in something that we all go like, “Yes, I totally felt that.” But, man, can we measure it in a lot of ways.
[00:15:22] BD: You’re speaking my love language. So I’m a therapist, and there were so many parts of this book where I was like, “Yes.” The attachment styles was one of them because I talk about this a lot. I specialize in pet loss grief. So when I’m working with my clients, I actually try to help them understand that about themselves in their relationship with their pet. Because oftentimes, I have clients that come in, and they’re so shocked by their grief. They’re like, “Oh, well. It was just my pet.” I’m like, “It’s not just your pet, and this is why.” So we talk a lot about attachment styles. When I read that in the book, I was like, “Yes.”
[00:16:00] JG: I got to say like I started – I was on sabbatical from my professor job for a lot of the writing of this book, and I started getting a master’s degree in psychology while we were writing the book. So literally, like every week, I’d come back to Stacey, my co-author, and I’d be like, “Stacey, I just did this thing in class this week, and we have to go back and put that in chapter five.”
So the attachment bonds were one of those things. We had written that chapter already. When I finished my class on close relationships, and we did a lot on attachment bonds, I was like, “This totally recontextualizes for me the kind of stuff we had in there.” So I’m very happy as a therapist that you found that relevant because, yes, for me, it really added this layer of, okay, it’s not just that we’re measuring. This is a really important relationship, and we know how to talk about that. That became one of the major themes of the book. It tied together so much different science to think about the relationship that way.
[00:16:51] BD: You and I, we share a love of seniors. We share a love of hospice cases and dogs with special medical needs. Can you share with the listeners what being an advocate for these animals has taught you about yourself?
[00:17:05] JG: I think I’ve always had this feeling that I want to find the ones that weren’t wanted the way that they should be, and like show them that they’ve got value and that they deserve better than that. I’m sure I’ve got some like deep-rooted trauma that informs that. But that’s always what I’m really drawn towards is like who are these dogs that like everybody’s forgetting, that no one has treated right? Let me come along, and like I will take care of it. That feels really rewarding and like I’m fulfilling some need and probably trying to like heal myself by doing that. But taking them in has really shown me how easy it is to do so much work, and you don’t even really know that you’re doing it.
So there was one point where we had two hospice dogs and another senior who was close to the end of his life. We had seven total at that point, including three very high-maintenance dogs. We had to hand-feed them, and it was no problem. I wasn’t like, “Oh, my God. I can’t believe I’ve got to like hand-feed spaghetti and get covered in this.” It’s just like, “Of course, this is the thing we do.”
I suspect parents often have this feeling. I don’t have any kids of my own, and so I suspect parents who like really love parenting are like, “Yes. Of course, I got up at like three in the morning. It’s like not like the most fun thing, but like it’s fine. It didn’t bother me at all.” I think about doing that with a kid, and I’m like, “Man, that’s the reason I didn’t have any.” But with a dog, I’m like, “Of course.” I’m hand-feeding them in different rooms and doing this.
When you lose them then, you go, “I had no idea how much our life had started revolving around taking care of this.” But it’s not a problem at the time, and that’s a thing that I was like very happy to kind of realize about myself that it can get to be a huge amount of work. But it’s just you’re taking care of a soul that you love, and it doesn’t really feel like work then.
[00:19:02] BD: Yes. I resonate with that so much. I tell people a lot that this work has taught me just how much love I had to give.
[00:19:09] JG: For sure.
[00:19:10] BD: I loved that you in your appendix included the quality of life. Will you talk about that for a minute?
[00:19:17] JG: Yes. A question that we often get from people on social media when their dog either has gotten a pretty catastrophic diagnosis or is just clearly at the end of their life is like how do I know when it’s time to make this decision. It’s decision that I’ve made more times that I can count about when to say goodbye to your dog. I have guilt over every one of those decisions, even though I know I have made it correctly every time. But it’s hard to talk through with people if you don’t know their specific dog. Frankly, you don’t want to tell them, yes, it’s time or, no, it isn’t. What I wanted to be able to do was tell people like here’s how we make this decision.
So that quality of life survey that’s in the appendix is not a – it’s a bunch of questions, and they have scores. But it’s not like, “And if it’s above this level, you’re fine.” Or below that you say goodbye. It’s more for you to get a sense of the different parts of your dog’s life. Because like we were saying, when you’re in it and you’re taking care of a dog who’s declining, you may not realize that like, oh, the fact that they’re not eating actually has gotten to a pretty extreme level, the fact that they don’t want anybody to really be around them. Or if you try to move them, they snap at you, which is something they didn’t do before. To really see where do they fall in a bunch of different aspects of the quality of their life and be able to track it over time and see like, “Oh, it’s going down,” or like, “Man, I didn’t even think about this part.”
I have sent that to so many people like since we wrote it. We pulled together from a bunch of different surveys to make that one. That is really helpful for us. That’s basically the kinds of things that we think about. I also tell people, we kind of set a threshold, depending on the dog. So sometimes, we have Golden Retrievers. A lot of them have hemangiosarcomas, which are these very fast-growing cancers. A dog can be fine on Monday and be dead on Friday. They just show up really fast. If we’re able to catch them, you can’t really treat them, and we go, “Okay. If they are up all night panting because they’re uncomfortable, like that’s kind of going to be the marker for us.”
We give ourselves the freedom to reassess. But I think having some objective things to help guide you can be really helpful. Of course, you can make whatever decision you think is right at the time.
[00:21:28] BD: Yes. It’s a really great resource, and I’m glad you included it.
[00:21:31] JG: Thank you.
[00:21:32] BD: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
[00:21:36] JG: I hope they come away, if you’re a dog owner, with a really deeper appreciation of the complexity of the mind of your dog and the depth of the relationship that you have with them. I don’t think anybody’s going to love their dog more. Hopefully, you love them the maximum amount already. But, hopefully, you come away from it really understanding that they are complex creatures that have the capability for so much emotion and connection. They give that all to us freely and willingly and to the fullest of their abilities, which is pretty amazing. It’s hard to get that from humans, right? It’s a relationship that we can feel safe in.
Maybe it’ll get more people like telling their secrets to their dogs or wanting to take him out for a walk and like deepen that connection. I always think it’s great if you’re like, “Is there a thing I could do now that would make my dog happier? Let’s go do that thing.” That’s what I want people to do. Put this book down and be like, “You know what? Let’s go get some French fries, and you can have a few.”
[00:22:37] BD: I’m so glad that you came on this podcast because your message is exactly what we want our listeners to leave every episode thinking is like, “Man, I have so much gratitude for the animals that are around me.” Kind of switching that way of thinking where we’ve always thought, well, what can animals bring into our lives and reversing that? Well, what can we bring into animals’ lives? How can we kind of return the favor to them for all of the profound gifts that they bring into our life every day?
I love to close out the episode sharing a story of an animal in your life that has really brought magic or done healing or taught a lesson in an unassuming way. I know you’ve had so many animals in and out of your home. But is there any one particular animal that stands out to you?
[00:23:26] JG: For sure. So Voodoo was our epileptic dog. We only had him for like a year and a half. He was, obviously, a very complicated dog. But that dog did not care about anything you wanted him to do. He was just like the most mischievous dog. We had to actually move the toilet paper roll holders up the wall in our house because he would eat the toilet paper. Not just grab it and drag it around the house. He’d, like an apple, just take bites out of it. He would eat anything, the recycling. Anything below like shoulder height of a human, he would eat it.
You couldn’t make him upset. Like if you were to yell at him, he’d be like, “Whatever. I’m going to go eat it again.” He just didn’t care at all. He’s just absolutely his own dog, doing whatever he wanted but loved us and was like so happy to spend time with us. He thought he’d want to go for walks, and he’d get all excited. He’d walk halfway down the block and throw himself to the ground. I’d have to call my husband to like bring the car and put him in the car, and he’d be fine. He just didn’t want to walk anymore. He was very independent and did whatever he wanted. It was the like most joyful amazing thing ever. He was really a magical dog, and I miss him so much.
[00:24:40] BD: Voodoo.
[00:24:41] JG: Voodoo.
[00:24:42] BD: Jen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This was such a beautiful conversation, and I’m so excited for people to read your book. Yes, The Purest Bond: Understanding the Human-Canine Connection, it’s amazing.
[00:24:56] JG: It’s been a joy to talk to you. Thank you so much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:24:58] PF: That was Brittany talking with Jen Golbeck, author of The Purest Bond. Brittany, that was a fantastic interview. I know that as a therapist and as a grief specialist, you really enjoyed it and as a rescuer. So it’s so easy for us to think like, “I got this out of the interview.” What did you get out of the interview as you were doing it?
[00:25:17] BD: I felt like Jen did a really good job of bringing that happiness message. Listeners that go out and get her book and read it will see that there really is this kind of like dopamine hit that you get from reading her book because there’s so much happiness in it, the stories. I read this on an airplane, and I remember at one point like putting my hand on my heart like, “Oh, my God. I wish I could go home and kiss my babies right now.” I just felt so much gratitude towards them reading through the stories and just like the research and the way that Jen’s able to put that together.
That’s the purpose of Happiness Unleashed is to share the these little moments of happiness and the happy lessons and all the joy that animals bring into our lives. So I love that she led with that immediately.
[00:26:08] PF: I love it. I love it. That was a great interview. Lots that we can learn from her. We’re going to tell the listeners how they can find her book. Of course, how they can find out more about you and the work that you’re doing. We’ll have them meet us back here again next month for another fantastic episode of Happiness Unleashed.
[00:26:24] BD: Thanks, Paula.
[00:26:26] PF: That was Brittany Derrenbacher talking with Jen Golbeck. If you’d like to learn more about Jen, check out her book, The Purest Bond, or follow her on social media, visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab. While you’re there, you can also learn more about Brittany and the work she’s doing with animals. Of course, Brittany will be back here again next month to talk more about how pets bring us joy, help us heal, and can be some of our best teachers.
Until then, for everyone at Live Happy and Happiness Unleashed, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.