Oxytocin: the special bond between dogs and their owners explained

Dogs have lived alongside humans for thousands of years. In that time, many observations have been made regarding the nature of their bond. There’s no doubt that dogs and humans have a unique relationship. Oxytocin is a hormone that creates a special bond between humans and dogs. Humans and dogs are the only other species […]

Women and a dog

Dogs have lived alongside humans for thousands of years. In that time, many observations have been made regarding the nature of their bond. There’s no doubt that dogs and humans have a unique relationship.

Oxytocin is a hormone that creates a special bond between humans and dogs. Humans and dogs are the only other species outside of a human that can create this chemical brain activity. 

Behaviour differences

There is a startling difference between the behaviour of wild animals and that of your domesticated dog. The wild animals have reasons for keeping an eye out for predators rather than getting all affectionate when they see a smiling human. That makes your dog different from most animals. A study has revealed that your pet dog loves you so much that it might even ignore dangerous conditions to see you smile. The only requirement is that the human has to be nice to him as well.

Just think, how often do you stare in the loving gaze of your pet dog? How many times do you smooth your dog without any reason? Most probably countless times every day. The study indicates that the more you do this behaviour, the more your dog loves you. The only question is why? There are new researches that have helped us to find the answer.

The research indicates that every time you lovingly pet or gaze in the eyes of your dog, the level of oxytocin in his body enhances significantly. It is the oxytocin that helps to make the attachment grow stronger between your pet dog and you. The funny thing is, the oxytocin level of your body also enhances during this time. That makes you fall madly in love with your dog.

You can ask anyone who has a pet dog about their relationship. Most pet owners will tell you how unique their relationship with their dogs is. The researchers claim that oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is responsible for this. This article’s motto analyses the mysterious alchemy that works on the relationship between the dogs and their owners. Keep on reading if you are interested in it.

What is oxytocin, and how it affects love?

The relationship between oxytocin and love has been a popular research topic for quite some times now. In 2012, a group of researchers found that the levels of oxytocin among the couples in their first stage of romance are more than the unattached people.
True, oxytocin has an intricate relationship with the new love, but its impact affects us in many more ways. A review study conducted in 2013 found that some of the relationships enhancing effects of oxytocin involve:

  • Gazing
  • Fidelity
  • Positive memory of relationships
  • Processing the bonding clues

The question remains, what exactly is oxytocin? Well, it is one of the hormones that acts as a neurotransmitter. This hormone plays an essential role in the act of reproduction. The hormone triggers labour in females and helps to release breast milk. Among the men, oxytocin helps the sperm move.
All in all, the secretion of oxytocin influences two different social areas. It affects romantic love and the bond between the infant and mothers. Studies have also shown that parenthood enhances oxytocin levels in fathers to feel more attached to their child. While all these studies are concentrated on humans, oxytocin also plays a vital role in human-dog relationships.

The connection of affection

One of the studies has shown that human mothers with enhanced oxytocin levels react to their babies differently. They touch their babies affectionately more and sing to them. These actions also enhance the oxytocin level in the baby, making them seek their mothers more.

The researchers have found that human mothers’ oxytocin levels can spike just by gazing at their babies. The heightened oxytocin level helps the mother engage more in the gathering behaviour, which, in turn, makes the babies more attached and attentive to their mothers. Oxytocin creates a never-ending positive feedback loop that makes the bond between the parents and their babies stronger.

Like the mother and the child, the oxytocin level changes among the dogs and their humans during interactions. Frequently petting your dog enhances the levels of oxytocin which strengthens their bond of love and trust. Compared to that, if humans are prevented from touching their pets, the oxytocin levels decrease in both of their bodies.

The number of studies conducted on the oxytocin levels of men is few. Still, a couple of studies have shown a significant spike in men’s oxytocin level when interacting with their children. The oxytocin level significantly enhances when they toss their babies in the air, make them laugh, encourage them to explore or stimulate the babies in any other possible ways.

Chances are similar kinds of actions happen to the men and their bond with the pet dogs. However, we have not found any study that has explored this possibility.

The bond between humans and dogs

As the dogs affect humans in the same ways the babies do, we share a similar bond with our canine friends. The bond between humans and pet dogs is as strong as between the children and their mothers. The mechanism that helps to form the bonds are the same at the very least.

Dogs and oxytocin

With each passing day, the number of studies conducted on the dogs and human bond and oxytocin impact increases. A study conducted in 2015 demonstrated the effect of oxytocin on different species. In that study, several human-dog pairs were observed for 30 minutes. During this time, the dogs and the humans were interacting with each other.

The researchers found that the dogs that gazed at their humans for a more extended period had higher oxytocin levels than those who did not stare at each other for long. The study also showed that eye contact is a complicated factor for dogs as well. Eye contact is often context-dependent and can generate different results in different cases. For example, gazing into the eyes of your dog that loves you can generate a tender and loving moment. However, staring at the eyes of an unknown and unfriendly dog can often elicit different reactions. In the latter scenario, the dogs can consider the situation threatening and become intimidated or aggressive.

In the same research work, scientists have probed further the role of oxytocin in human-dog bonding. They administered the hormone to the female dogs through the nose and observed their behaviour. They saw that the female dogs who received the dose of oxytocin gaze at their humans for a more extended period than those who had received saline. The intriguing thing is that the oxytocin did not affect the male dogs as much as it did on the female dogs. The researchers are still not sure why female dogs are affected more than male dogs in this study.

These studies have perhaps affected dog lovers the most. They were excited to find out that their love for their pets is similar to their love for their children or life partners. The evolution biologists even think that this strong bond between dogs and humans is, perhaps, responsible for the dogs’ domestication process.

The social skills of a dog are related to oxytocin sensitivity

The domestication of dogs is a unique incident that changed the course of human history. During the domestication process, the wild ancestors of today’s dogs have developed a unique ability. This ability helped them to work side by side with humans for thousands of years. One of the unique aspects of dogs is their willingness to ask for help when in trouble.

This willingness, however, varies significantly among various dog breeds. Even if you consider the personality of the dogs of the same breed, you will notice differences. Some dogs are very independent and do not rely on the help of their human companions. They even sometimes refuse to collaborate with their human companions. A group of Linkoping University researchers, Sweden, may have found the reason behind this kind of behaviour.

Of course, they found that the levels of oxytocin have a considerable role in all these dramas. There is no doubt that oxytocin is an essential factor behind both animals and humans’ social relationships. With the help of 60 golden retrievers, the researchers tried to answer the unsolvable question.

The first step of the study involved teaching the dogs to open the lid to get a treat. Once that is complete, the dogs are given a lid firmly fixed in a single place. The researchers timed the dogs to check how many times they try to open the cover on their own before finally turning to their human companions for help.

Before conducting the test, the researchers sprayed oxytocin to the dogs’ noses to enhance their bodies’ level.

The study results indicated that the dogs with a particular genetic variant reacted more powerfully to the oxytocin receptors than the other dogs. Compared to the control group, the dogs that received oxytocin spray in their noses more readily approached their owners for help. The researchers explained that the study’s result explained how the dogs’ behaviour has changed during domestication.

The scientists indicated that the prehistoric people had chosen the wolves with a well-developed ability to collaborate and then bred generations of dogs from them. The study also points out how the same physiological factor can impact different species.

Understanding social signals

Apart from forming an attachment with their human companions, oxytocin helps the dogs to understand the social clues better. In a study conducted in 2015, the dogs were divided into two groups. One group received oxytocin injection, and the other one received saline water injection.

The researchers studied that the group that received oxytocin were more responsive to the social clues given by their human companions. They also understood the signals, like pointing and gazing, to find out food from hidden locations.

The most exciting findings of the study were that oxytocin makes the dogs more receptive to social signals. Oxytocin is known to produce negative social interaction more intense. So, it can be said that it helps dogs to focus more on social clues. It also allows them to understand the clues to a deeper level.

Dog’s love your smile

In another study, the researchers found that enhanced oxytocin levels make dogs love their human’s smiles. The researchers measured the dilation of the pupils of the dogs to evaluate their emotional state. Although this process was previously employed to understand the apes and humans’ emotional conditions, researchers used it on dogs this time.

The researchers clarified that the larger dilation indicates a higher level of arousal. The researchers applied oxytocin to the dogs through nasal sprays. With the help of an eye tracking device, they tracked the dogs’ pupils’ dilation and the direction of their gaze.

They did so twice for each of the dogs.

Once when they received the oxytocin dose and another time without the hormones. Instead of focusing on the most salient aspect of a social situation, the results indicated that dogs with oxytocin tend to focus more on smiling human faces. The elevated levels of oxytocin seem to make them overcome the survival instinct. They were instead happy to concentrate on the smiling faces of their companions.

The researchers explained that the elevated levels of oxytocin might have made the smiling faces more attractive and the angry ones less threatening to the dogs. The reaction indicates a highly pro-social behaviour among the dogs promoting the affectionate relationships between the dogs and their humans.

With its reputation as the love hormone, oxytocin undoubtedly affects our relationship with dogs heavily. Even though we have learned about many aspects of oxytocin’s effects on humans and our canine companions, further studies will undoubtedly shed even more light on these events. For now, we only can tell you that if you are sure that you and your dog share a unique and real relationship, researchers and pieces of evidence have got your back.

Physical and mental health

Dogs have a significant effect on our physical and mental health. Research shows that people over the age of 60 who lived with their pet are four times less likely to develop depression than their counterparts without pets. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be elderly to benefit from a canine. Companion animals are becoming increasingly popular for people of all ages to combat depression and anxiety and promote good mental health.

Owning a dog benefits:

  • Improve moods
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase time outside
  • Increase exercise
  • Build immunity
  • Give you a purpose
  • Love and enjoyment

Conclusion

Not only are they capable of loving us, but that love can prompt drastic changes that will make us healthier, happier, and more productive. So next time you’re feeling down and out, grab your dog Whether you take them outside for some playtime or hold them close for a cuddle. No dogs were harmed in these studies conducted. They all had their owners present. It is quite fascinating! I hope you enjoyed it and have learnt all about oxytocin.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.