by Soojin Um
Scientists have done “it”, they’ve proven that the love between humans and canines is a real thing! Not that we needed proof, but it’s still nice to know. A few years ago, researchers have found that a certain hormone called oxytocin is released whenever we look lovingly at our dogs. So, what does oxytocin do exactly? Some call it the “love hormone.” That may be oversimplifying it a little, but it does have a nice ring to it. Let’s take a look.
Dogs live in our homes, they protect us, they love us, and they are part of the family. That is certainly nothing new to us dog lovers. However, that last part is the key to how they have become our best friends. When people are around those they love, especially when in close proximity like hugging or cuddling, our bodies release oxytocin. Gazing into the eyes did the same. It seems the hormone encourages more social behaviors, such as bonding, trust, and love. In fact, it’s the same type of behavior parents display toward their children, and vice versa.
So, how does oxytocin work? When it was first discovered, oxytocin was recognized as facilitating “motherly instincts.” During pregnancy, birth, and nursing, the mother’s body released the hormone. Scientists hypothesized that it helped with bonding between the mother and child. This idea was put to a test. Rats that were exposed to the young of another showed disinterest and hostility. However, when rats that had already given birth were exposed to the young of another, those rats showed great interest and affection toward the young.
It’s not as simple as a “love” hormone, though. Oxytocin does not make animals love one another, it only reinforces it. It also fosters an “us against them” behavior where we favor those we relate to and become suspicious or negative to those we don’t. This could be why dogs are so loyal to us but can be aggressive towards other people and other dogs. When we invite friends over, even ones our dogs haven’t met before, the dogs accept them after a short time. They understand that your friends are in the group.
Whatever the scientific reasons are, dogs and people share a bond. That bond can often be stronger than people have with other people, and dogs with other dogs. Evolutionary biologist Greger Larson has stated that had humans gone it alone without dogs, we probably would not exist as we know it. Humans and dogs in partnership is how we developed civilization into what it is today. That’s a bold statement, but deep down, those of us who love dogs understand this to be true. In explaining our bond, we can truly say (in the best way) that science is for the dogs.
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