Dog owners obviously love their dogs. If they didn’t, a Harris poll wouldn’t have found that 92% of dog owners consider their pets to be members of the family. In fact, about 76% of dog owners give their pets toys on Christmas, and about 40% hang stockings for them at Christmas, too.
The real question, though, is whether or not dogs love their humans back, and a new study says they do.
According to a new study published in the journal Science, humans and dogs produce and exchange increased concentrations of the hormone oxytocin when they gaze at each other, and the more dogs and humans gaze at one another, the more oxytocin is exchanged. This hormone, which is also known as the love hormone, promotes feelings of attachment and plays an important role in social bonding.
Interestingly, this exchange was not observed in wolves, which suggests that it’s a trait dogs developed as they evolved and became more domesticated. Dr Miho Nagasawa, lead author of the study, noted that it could even be said that dogs are so capable of co-habituation with humans that they’ve adapted their bonding mechanism this way. This ocular form of bonding would have naturally happened exclusively with their own species, but at one point or another, it evolved to also incorporate humans as well.
In order to find this link, researchers observed dogs for 30 minutes in a room with their owners, and categorized the amount of time they made eye contact into two groups, long and short gazes. Dogs and owners that gazed at one another the most had a significant increase in oxytocin.
A second experiment revealed a continuous loop of bonding. When dogs make eye contact with their owners, oxytocin is released, which makes the humans want to interact with the dog more, in turn releasing more oxytocin.
Perhaps the most important thing revealed by the study, though, is the suggestion that dogs aren’t humanity’s best friend exclusively. Humans are dogs’ best friends, too.