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Gazing into Your Dog's Eyes Releases Love Hormone

Gazing into your dog’s eyes releases the love hormone.

Have you ever locked eyes with your dog and felt a rush of peace, love, and well-being? It turns out that science has been able to nail down what causes those feelings. It's oxytocin.

What Is Oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a hormone that is released into a mammal's body during such activities as hugging, kissing, childbirth, and breastfeeding. It's been dubbed the "love hormone" because of its association with loving actions.

In turn, once released into the body, oxytocin increases the feelings of love, security, and happiness that the person is feeling. It has also been shown to have positive physical effects such as decreasing blood pressure and heart rate.

Oxytocin plays a special part in the development of the parent-child bond.

Gazing at Your Dog Releases Oxytocin

In a recent study on gazing into dogs' eyes, oxytocin, and evolution (Nagasawa M, 2015), several things were discovered or confirmed:

  • Gazing into the eyes of a dog increases oxytocin release in humans.
  • Spraying oxytocin into a female dog's nose increases the frequency with which she gazes at her human.
  • Wolves that are raised by humans do not gaze at their human handlers, and they appear not to be affected by this oxytocin-induced gazing loop.

These results tell us that the release of oxytocin as a result of gazing into someone's eyes can cross species, that it is a positive loop where gazing increases oxytocin and oxytocin further increases gazing, and that the development of this cross-species oxytocin loop with dogs seems to have happened sometime during the domestication process.

Dogs' Behaviors During Gazes

Never gaze into an unknown dog's eyes. This should be reserved for dogs you know well and have a personal relationship with. Dogs that you don't know may take such behavior as a challenge and respond by growling, lunging, or biting.

Further research into oxytocin and dog gazing has shown that the attention seeking behaviors that a dog uses with her human increase when the human looks at the dog's face (Midori Ohkitaa, 2016). Such behaviors in the dog as whining, pawing at the ground, approaching the owner, and looking at the owner's face were higher when the human was looking at the dog's face than when the person looked away.

The researchers feel that gazes between humans and dogs signal attachment and a close relationship between the two.

Oxytocin Facilitates Bonding

Scientists have long believed that oxytocin plays a huge role in parent-child bonding, especially in the case of mothers. Eye contact and gazing is an important part of oxytocin-induced relationship building in humans, and these studies indicate that, during domestication, dogs may have been able to take advantage of that biological system that is already in place.

After all, an increased feeling of love and affection for a dog would mean that the human would spend more time and energy caring for her.

The research on oxytocin and dog gazes helps confirm at least one mechanism for some things we already know about the human-canine bond. Dogs inspire deep love in their humans, and interacting with dogs has positive physical and psychological effects on us, too.

Works Cited

  1. Midori Ohkitaa, M. N. (2016, April). Owners' direct gazes increase dogs' attention-getting behaviors. Retrieved from Science Direct: DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2016.02.013.
  2. Nagasawa M, M. S. (2015, April 17). Social evolution. Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds. Retrieved from Science: DOI: 10.1126/science.1261022.

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