Ever wondered why looking into Fido’s sweet puppy dog eyes makes you feel overwhelmed with love? Do you bond with your dog as if it were your furry child? It turns out the same hormone that helps reinforce the bond between a parent and a child is switched on when you gaze into your pooch’s eyes. A team of Japanese researchers recently published their report in Science, claiming the rise in oxytocin levels is measured in both man and dog.
They found that eye contact between owner and dog create a feedback loop: it leads to the release of oxytocin, which triggers caring behaviour, which in turn causes the release of more oxytocin (also known as the ‘love hormone’). This response isn’t found in wolves - not even the ones who were hand-raised as pets by humans.
“This idea yields interesting implications that dogs were domesticated by coopting social cognitive systems in humans that are involved in social attachment”, states the report. “Gaze plays an important role in human communication. [It] not only facilitates the understanding of another’s intention but also the establishment of [...] relationships with others. In humans, ‘mutual gaze’ is the most fundamental manifestation of social attachment between a mother and infant.” While oxytocin bonding occurs in other mammals too, facing others is a threatening behaviour in other animals. Humans were thought to be unique in using eye contact to trigger the release of oxytocin hormones, but this research proves otherwise.
Mutual gazing is beneficial to both: dogs who bonded with people earned our care; humans who reciprocated reduced stress levels thanks to the rising oxytocin levels. According to leading researcher Miho Nagasawa this is the first demonstration of convergent evolution in cognitive traits between humans and another species.
And so, with science on my side, I think I’m going to clear my agenda for tonight and spend some quality mutual gazing time with my pup. No amount of rain – or hail – can spoil my day anymore!
PS if you want to know more about this research, you might want to watch this short clip:
© Suzanne van Kaam, Mad Paws Pty. Ltd.
This article was originally posted on the blog of Mad Paws Australia. Visit www.madpaws.com.au, the ultimate place for dog and/or cat owners to find compassionate and trusted pet sitters for when they’re away.
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