Not everyone loves dogs of course, but most dog owners claim a strong bond with their pet. A new study from Japan sheds some light into the biochemistry of this relationship: Dogs who trained a long gaze on their owners had elevated levels of oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain that is associated with nurturing and attachment. After receiving those long gazes, the owners’ levels of oxytocin increased, too. This is similar to how bonding occurs between parent and newborns.
Researchers also tested oxytocin levels in wolves-to-owner gazes among a sample of wolves who had been raised by humans. Compared with dogs, the wolves scarcely gazed at their owners, and the owners’ oxytocin levels barely budged.
Dr. Takefumi Kikusui, professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at Azabu University, suggested that “there is a possibility that dogs cleverly and unknowingly utilized a natural system meant for bonding a parent with his or her child.” Certainly one doesn’t have to search long to find examples which speak to this bond:
“My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.” – Edith Wharton
“Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads.” – Harry S Truman
“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers is contained in the dog.” – Kafka