How much do you love your dog? Does your dog love you just as much?
We don’t have kids. We have a dog. And we love our dog. Saying “I love my dog” doesn’t come close to describing how I feel when I think about her. Just looking at her makes my heart swell. I feel good just being around her, and I know she feels good being around me.
As it turns out, science has a hand in this love connection.
Have you heard of the “Love Hormone?” That’s how some people refer to oxytocin, which acts as a chemical messenger in the brain. It’s produced in the hypothalamus and is responsible for feel-good human behaviors such as sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety, and the mother-infant bond. It also serves to counteract the stress response and reduce adrenalin, which results in less anxiety and less immune suppression.
Oxytocin, a neuropeptide synthetized by the hypothalamus in mammals, regulates many complex forms of social behavior and cognition in both human and nonhuman animals.
That’s why people refer to oxytocin as the ‘love hormone’, ‘cuddle chemical’, or ‘trust hormone’. They even discovered that people are more trusting of strangers if oxytocin is sprayed into their nose. Science now has evidence that oxytocin is directly involved in the bond between people dogs.
We’ve always known our dogs are good for us, but here’s a biological explanation for it beyond the fact that they make us feel good.-Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
A study published in the journal Animal Cognition discovered that oxytocin:
- promotes the connection between humans and companion dogs
- lowers blood pressure and other indications of physiological stress
- is involved in a dog’s ability to use human cues
- in extra doses helped dogs to performing simple tasks better
“Oxytocin enables the bond between dog and human.” – Jessica Oliva, PhD
The researchers theorized that since both humans and dogs usually produce more oxytocin when they interact, the presence of the oxytocin hormone indicated that dogs evolved into being “the perfect human companion” because that chemical bond allowed them to better read their person’s commands. (No cats were available to comment on these findings.)
They are currently researching whether there’s a genetic difference in the oxytocin receptor gene in some dogs. If so, the researchers say it could lead to selective breeding of working dogs such as guide dogs and military dogs.
Oxytocin Even Helps Dogs Bond with Playmates
Does your dog have a favorite doggie pal? Science and chemicals may play a role in their friendship as well! A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered that a whiff of oxytocin made the dogs friendlier toward their dog pals. The researchers also determined that oxytocin is key to forming and maintaining close social relationships—even when those are with unrelated individuals or different species. This could explain why many dogs form close bonds with others species of animals.
That animals of different species induce oxytocin release in each other suggests that they, like us, may be capable of love. It is quite possible that Fido and Boots may feel the same way about you as you do about them. You can even call it love. -Neuroeconomist Paul Zak
Feeling Blue? Play with Your Dog!
When you are feeling down, be glad your dog is around. Science proved that dog guardians experience a burst in oxytocin after playing with their canine companions.
These studies also found that:
- Petting and talking to a dog for three minutes increases oxytocin levels in the bloodstream of both human and dog.
- Actively playing with your dog boosts oxytocin levels.
- There’s a correlation between the level of a dog owner’s oxytocin level and how much their dog tended to gaze directly at them.
- Relaxed eye contact with your dog increases oxytocin.
- The closer a person feels to their dog, the more oxytocin the person will release.
The next time you’re having a bad day, or you’re just feeling down, get up and go outside. Play with your dog. Show your dog some love. He’ll give you love back, and you’ll both feel better. I promise.
Everybody, everybody wants to love
Everybody, everybody wants to be loved
Oh, oh, oh, Just let the love, love, love begin
“Everybody” by Ingrid Michaelson
Amy is the founder and chief operator of Conscious Companion℠. She is on the Advisory Team for Family Paws Parent Education™. She is a licensed presenter of the Dogs & Storks® and the Dogs & Toddlers™ programs, and a Doggone Safe ‘Be A Tree’ presenter. She is an active member of the Pet Professional Guild and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Amy serves on the board of directors of the Cape Fear Parrot Sanctuary. You can learn more about her on her website.