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Researchers in Japan recently conducted a study revealing what dog lovers already knew. Canine creatures and their owners do have a special connection. The puppy eyes that dogs glare with at people, are said to increase the bond between the two, making a biological reaction to occur. Numerous studies have suggested that in humans, the mother and her baby get a boost of oxytocin as they gaze at one another during breast-feeding, fueling the release of the hormone in each other. Now, the new research has proved that oxytocin is the link between humans and canines.
According to the study, the body of a human as well as a dog, gets flooded with the hormone when both, the human and the dog gaze into each other’s eyes. Oxytocin is a hormone which is found in humans and canines that among other things, also aids in strengthening bonds between babies and their parents. One example given using rodents was when the offspring was separated from their mothers. The babies transmit a series of ultrasonic noises that stimulates the mothers to release more oxytocin, prompting them to pick up the baby and play the part of a more nurturing mother. This then leads to the release of more oxytocin resulting in the babies having a more attached behavior.
Often referred to as the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin behaves in various ways in humans. Some of them are reducing stress, triggering the induction of labor, and helping individual members recognize group members. Secreted from the pituitary gland and made inside a brain structure called the hypothalamus, oxytocin has many positive impacts on human physiology and psychology. This includes anxiety, sexual arousal, and maternal behavior. However in all mammals, one of its main roles is to help an infant and parent bond.
Described in the journal, Science, Thursday April 17, the researchers conducted multiple experiments, which suggest that humans and their pet dogs have mutually developed a mechanism for instinctual bonding. This happened as the European wolves evolved into domestic dogs through the evolutionary process. However, it is rare to find a presence of oxytocin or this type of interaction between today’s wolves and the people who raise them. Interestingly, for domesticated dogs and wolves, eye contact is not a normal bonding behavior. Instead, dominant dogs stare down the canines which are lower in the pack, and the puppies tend to look away when they are nervous.
In one experiment involving canines of various breeds and ages, owners were put in a room with their dogs. The scientists tracked their behavior and measured the levels of oxytocin through urine samples. People who registered the highest increase in the levels were those who had the most eye contact with their dogs. Oxytocin levels also spiked in dogs corresponding with that of their owners and thus proves that it is the link between humans and canines.
In a series of experiments, researchers found that a positive physiological feedback loop exists between humans and dogs. Whereby, when a rise of oxytocin occurs in one, it also triggers a rise of the hormone in the other. In a similar experiment with wolves, no such loop was found by researchers, even with wolves interacting with the people who had raised them. The study noted that wolves typically avoid human eye contact as they identify that as a threat. This suggests that there is a strong connection through the oxytocin hormone between humans and dogs, making them grow to protect and care for each other. A dog is not just another housed animal that eats and sleeps. On the contrary, humans and dogs have a bond more like a parent and child or friend with friend.
By Ankur Sinha
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