Why we bond with dogs
Dogs may be man’s best friend, but a new Japanese study suggests that they share a bond with humans that’s more like one between parent and child.
The research team analyzed 30 dog owners and their pets, paying particular attention to eye contact. They found that gazing into each others’ eyes triggers a burst of oxytocin - the hormone that regulates love, nurturing and trust – in the brains of both human and canine. Further, they found that the more eye contact that was made, the more concentrated the level of oxytocin.
To test the results of the study, published in Science, the researchers also looked at animal management professionals who had raised and nurtured wolves. They found that although canines are descendants of wolves, there were no cases of mutual gazes or oxytocin surges between the handlers and wolves. The team also conducted a separate experiment, where dogs were given an oxytocin supplement 30 minutes before interacting with their owners. In female dogs, the supplemental oxytocin increased the number of times the dog would gaze at the owner, increasing brain-oxytocin of the owner. This however, did not occur in male dogs.
The researchers suggest that the study helps us understand how dogs and humans, although different species, can grow to love and protect each other as if they were family members. They say the oxytocin “feedback loop” was a tool in the evolution of dogs, to help them adopt human behavior and form tight bonds for protection.