Does My Dog Love Me?

February 2, 2016

 

In the educated community between psychologists and animal behaviorists, one topic that can typically rile up a group is over emotions and more advanced implications into the animal mind, especially with the topic of love. There are many out there that say only humans have the capability to love and that dogs only really spend time with us because it works out better for them that way. However, research may be leading to findings that your dog actually does love you.

 

Oxytocin is a hormone that is associated with bonding and trust. It is also known as a "love" hormone because it is released when mothers and their babies are together. It also is seen when couples touch each other or look at each other. One study had shown that when mothers stared at their infant's eyes, the baby would have an increase in oxytocin levels and would stare back at their mother, who would then have an increase in oxytocin levels as well. This creates what is a positive feedback loop of oxytocin release, which contributes to the bonding of mother and child.

 

A study was conducted by an animal behaviorist, Takefumi Kikusui, at Azabu University in Japan to see if this bonding hormone could be seen between different species, particularly people and dogs. The study found that "mutual gazing" between dogs and their owners did show this positive feedback loop of oxytocin release. The study showed that between owners and dogs who spent the greatest amount of time gazing in each others' eyes, dogs had a 130% increase in oxytocin levels and owners had a 300% increase in oxytocin levels. In dogs and owners that didn't gaze into each others' eyes for longer amounts of times and wolves, there was no increase in oxytocin.

 

A second study was then conducted in which the scientists gave the dogs a nasal spray of oxytocin before they interacted with their owners (wolves were not used for this experiment). Female dogs given the spray gazed at their owners 150% more, which resulted in a 300% increase in oxytocin levels to the owners. The spray didn't have an effect on male dogs or dogs given the placebo of a saline-only nasal spray. Female dogs may have been the ones affected due to it being more important for females from a reproductive standpoint of labor and lactation.

 

Human-dog bonds could be compared to a mother and her child when looking at oxytocin levels. While dogs and children are very different and shouldn't be treated the same, a case could be made that they do love us. It might not be a love as complex as human love, but it could still be love. So, what if you and your dog don't frequently gaze in each others' eyes? No, there is not a commerical oxytocin nasal spray you can give your female dog to try to make her love you more. No, staring down your dog will most likely cause discomfort rather than causing your dog to love you. Instead, do fun and positive things with your dog. Work on things to build and strengthen your relationship with your dog. Do you think dogs are capable of love? What does your dog do to show you love?

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