The Puppy Love Is In the Gaze

How Dogs Bond With Us

If you’ve been a dog owner for more than a day, you’ve probably noticed those long, adoring gazes your puppy sometimes fixes on you. New research has confirmed what every dog owner already intuitively knows – those long gazes are full of love! Both dogs and their owners experienced a spike in oxytocin, a hormone connected to affection and bonding, after a long look in each other’s eyes. How cool is that?

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Those big brown eyes gaze at you, deeply. Your heart leaps. You caress, murmuring sweet nothings. And as those big browns remain fixed on you, the tail wags.

Devoted dog. Besotted owner. That continuous loop of loving reinforcement may begin with the dog’s gaze, according to a new report in Science.

Japanese researchers found that 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, similar to the feel-good feedback that bolsters bonding between parent and child. After receiving those long gazes, the owners’ levels of oxytocin increased, too.

The dog’s gaze cues connection and response in the owner, who will reward the dog by gazing, talking and touching, all of which helps solder the two, the researchers said. They suggest that dogs became domesticated in part by adapting to a primary human means of contact: eye-to-eye communication.

How fun is it to see science confirm something that we all experience as dog owners? Given the way we care for our puppies, it makes sense that the bonding chemicals and process are similar to that of parents and children. The next time you see your dog look lovingly upon you, give yourself an extra moment to let all that feel-good oxytocin sink in for both of you.17welldog2-articleInline.jpg

And when researchers gave dogs extra oxytocin through a nasal spray, the female dogs (though not the males) gazed at their owners even longer, which in turn boosted the owners’ oxytocin levels.

“What’s unique about this study is that it demonstrates that oxytocin can boost social gaze interaction between two very different species,” said Steve Chang, an assistant professor of psychology and neurobiology at Yale who was not involved in this latest research.

Dr. Chang, who studies oxytocin in animals, noted that through domestication, dogs came to regard humans as their “key social partners,” while humans also came to view dogs as social partners.

“In a way, domesticated dogs could hijack our social circuits, and we can hijack their social circuits,” he said in an email, as each species learned how to raise the other’s oxytocin levels, facilitating connection.

– via Well

Does your “fur baby” gaze into your eyes every day? What did you think that puppy love meant before reading this article?

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