Dogs And Owners Share A Bond Similar To That Of A Parent And Child. FACT OR FAKE?

In our 103rd edition of Fact or Fake column, we explore the reason we can't resist puppy dog eyes.

Cover image via Mikako Mikura

Dogs are said to be man's best friend.

But the connection between dogs and humans is not just on emotional level. When dogs gaze into their owners eyes, it triggers oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain that is associated with nurturing and attachment, similar to the feel-good feedback that bolsters bonding between parent and child, the NYT reported citing a recent study that claims gazing causes oxytocin to spike.

The dog’s gaze cues connection and response in the owner, who will reward the dog by gazing, talking and touching, all of which helps solder the two, the researchers said. They suggest that dogs became domesticated in part by adapting to a primary human means of contact: eye-to-eye communication.

And when researchers gave dogs extra oxytocin through a nasal spray, the female dogs (though not the males) gazed at their owners even longer, which in turn boosted the owners’ oxytocin levels.

“What’s unique about this study is that it demonstrates that oxytocin can boost social gaze interaction between two very different species,” said Steve Chang, an assistant professor of psychology and neurobiology at Yale who was not involved in this latest research.

According to the study, oxytocin levels in both dogs and owners rise when they interact, suggesting they do share a bond similar to that of a parent and child. Oxytocin, the hormone, is known to play a role in maternal bonding, says WSJ, and increases when a mother and a child gaze at each other.

One of oxytocin's main jobs is to help a parent bond with their child, so it can be produced when a mother breastfeeds or looks at her baby. The same hormone has also been observed in both dogs and people when they take part in activities like petting and playing, etc.

Image via BBC

To test their theory, the researchers observed 30 dog owners interact with their dogs and then measured how much oxytocin the dogs produced via urine tests.

Researchers had the pleasant task of collecting urine from a group of dogs and their owners before and after a 30-minute interaction. The samples showed that those who gazed at each most experienced the biggest surge of oxytocin in their urine.

Researchers sprayed oxytocin into a group of dogs noses and found female dogs stared longer at their owners afterwards. The gazing also increased the owners levels of oxytocin.

According to scientists who worked on the study, the benefits of gazing at your pet far outweighs if you're simply telling it what to do

Image via BBC

The new findings on the strong bond between dogs and humans could be applied to a variety of fields, including a better understanding of the role of therapy dogs.

Overall, the results suggest that as dogs became domesticated, they might have developed a mutually beneficial ability to bond with humans the same way that we bond with each other. In an essay on the study published in Science, Evan MacLean and Brian Hare, both cognitive scientists at Duke, write, “dogs have taken advantage of our parental sensitivities—using behaviors such as staring into our eyes—to generate feelings of social reward and caretaking behavior.” In other words, dogs learned to evoke the same love that parents feel for their children.


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