Every dog owner has seen their pet give those big, irresistible puppy dog eyes. This can happen no matter how old your pooch is, and nearly every time it can reduce you to a quivering mess talking in a baby voice.
A new study reveals those puppy dog eyes don’t just melt your heart -- they also hold a secret bond between you and your dog.
It’s no secret the bond between humans and canines runs deep, but this new research proves it’s a very, very intense bond. Study author Takefumi Kikusui, from Azabu University in Japan tells the Today Show, “Owner-dog bonding is comparable to parent-infant bonding. And this is surprising to us…because there is not a reproductive relationship between humans and dogs.”
Previous research had nailed down the fact that eye contact between dogs and humans increases the levels of the hormone oxytocin in people. Oxytocin is pretty amazing, it’s released when you hug someone, or shake their hand. Also known as the “cuddle chemical,” it promotes bonding between those in a romantic relationships and also between mother and child. Most of the studies until now have proved solidly that humans produce oxytocin because of other humans, and dogs produce it because of other dogs. The new findings prove that humans and dogs can actually influence each other’s oxytocin levels!
For the first experiment, 28 pairs of owners and their dogs all had their oxytocin levels measured. All of the pairs were then observed interacting with each other for 30 minutes. The dogs got lots of cuddles, talked to, and gazed at by their owners. After the time was up, all dogs and humans got their oxytocin levels measured again. The pairs that gazed at each other longest showed the biggest increases in their levels of oxytocin.
In the second experiment, 54 dogs got a spritz of either saline or oxytocin in their noses. The female dogs who were treated with the oxytocin then spent more time gazing up at their owners than those who received the saline. Additionally, after a half hour of strong eye contact, their owners then experienced an increased level of oxytocin as well. Evan MacLean, senior research scientist and co-director of Duke Canine Cognition center says of the findings, “[This] suggests that this gaze behavior is really critical in oxytocin release. When they receive oxytocin, this causes dogs to look more at people and the more they look, it boosts [oxytocin levels] more.”
When similar experiments were repeated with wolves who had been raised by people, the same results were not seen. This suggests dogs started gazing at their owners as a social strategy when they became domesticated, rather than inheriting the trait from their wolf ancestors.
What does all this mean for you and your dog?
Canine psychology experts Evan MacLean and Brian Hare of Duke University comment on the research, writing, “When your dog is staring at you, she may not just be after your sandwich.” MacLean adds, "This special bonding relationship with dogs is fairly unique." Aw! What are you waiting for? Go gaze into those irresistible puppy dog eyes!
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