We’ve all heard the expression, “man’s best friend” when it comes to our dogs, but did you know there is science behind the bond between humans and their canine companions. We looked at the science to understand how it works – and no, this will not help you look into those sweet puppy dog eyes and say no when your pup asks for another cookie or wants you to throw the ball again (you’re on your own there…).
It’s not just because we feed them but that might be a helpful part of understanding the relationship between humans and domesticated dogs. Research has confirmed that when our dogs stare into our eyes, they activate the same hormonal response that bonds us to human infants. This scientific data confirms what people have been experiencing for the hundreds of years that dogs have lived as domesticated animals.
Brian Hare, an expert on canine cognition at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says the discovery might lead to a better understanding of why service dogs are so helpful for people with autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Takefumi Kikusui, an animal behaviorist at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan became fascinated by the fact that dogs were looking deeply into their owner’s eyes. This was impressive to him because when we think about dog’s closest wild relatives, wolves they view this deep gazing as aggressive, not affectionate or loving. Kikusui’s lab studies oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in maternal bonding, trust, and altruism.
Kikusui ran an experiment where he convinced 30 of his dog owner friends to bring their pets into his laboratory for observation. For comparison, he also found a few people who had pet wolves (we know, kinda cool right?). The dogs and wolves provided urine samples and then owners interacted with their dog or wolf for a 30 minute period. After this interaction, urine samples were again collected.
Kikusui and his team tested the urine to learn that “Mutual gazing had a profound effect on both the dogs and their owners. Of the duos that had spent the greatest amount of time looking into each other’s eyes, both male and female dogs experienced a 130% rise in oxytocin levels, and both male and female owners a 300% increase.”
There are still some theories out there that dogs are so much more willing to look into our eyes because we feed and care for them. Which makes the answer to these questions that much more complicated.
In a lot of cases, the answer here is yes. So if your dog prefers hanging out with your partner or you’re the only one who takes the dog for their “poop walk” they may be showing some favoritism. It is believed that dogs may pick a person whose personality and energy level is similar to theirs.
While this may come from ‘nurture’ there may also be some ‘nature’ involved. Some dog breeds are just more prone to attaching themselves to a single human. These include greyhounds, Shiba Inus, Cairn terriers, and Basenjis. Other breeds like those in the pit bull, labrador, and retriever families may be less selective and choose to love on anyone who gives them attention, pets, or treats!
There is even some science to back this up. A 2017 study found that there are variations in the receptor genes for oxytocin which could be related to a dogs’ openness to greeting people they don’t know.
In German Shepherds, the form of the gene that an individual dog possessed was an excellent predictor of how friendly that dog was toward people. This could also often be seen when analyzing the form of this gene in Border Collies. The predictability was not seen when looking at other breeds like the Siberian husky. So, if your dog makes new (human) friends easily it could be a result of their genetics.
While there may be some scientific reasons why dogs bond with people, there are many ways to deepen your bond with your dog. Feeding them nutritious food, taking good care of them, and including them in your best adventures are all great ways to create a lasting bond (and have lots of fun) with your dog.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.
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