There’s no feeling quite like it: Your four-legged best bud greets you at the door with a slobbery, heartfelt lick across the face. It’s totally sweet, but also kind of gross.

Well, University of Arizona researcher Charles Raison, MD, hypothesizes that dog kisses may be more helpful than we think: He's leading a new study designed to explore whether bacteria found in dog’s saliva and on their bodies can improve humans' immune health and help minimize allergic reactions (from sneezing to itching and hives).

Prior data have suggested that kids who have a dog at home when they're born are less likely to develop immune-driven diseases including asthma and atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, than kids who don't have a furry pet.

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That said, other research suggests that simply having a healthy amount of bacteria in the house can help prevent asthma and allergies. The so-called hygiene hypothesis asserts that children raised in too-clean environments have immune systems that are more likely to overreact to the body's own tissues or harmless substances like pollen because they haven't been exposed to germs or parasites, which can "teach" the immune system to react appropriately.

Dr. Raison’s study aims to shed light on what might be happening at the microbial level: He told ABC News that dogs may work like a “probiotic,” helping their humans develop healthy bacteria colonies that in turn boost the immune system.

To find out, his team is pairing up subjects ages 50 to 60 with a rescue dog from the Human Society of Southern Arizona for three months. Throughout the study period, the researchers will evaluate changes in the subjects’ gut flora and immune function. Until those study results are in, we’ll be dodging doggie kisses.

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