Anyone who has chosen to have a dog in his or her life has at one point gazed into those soulful eyes, and most likely felt some type of connection. It feels like love to many of us. Fascinating medical research reports a chemical, hormonal reason for those warm feelings. Oxytocin!
If the word “oxytocin” sounds familiar to you, it’s because you may have heard it referred to as the “love” or “happy” hormone. In research focused on humans, oxytocin seems to play a central role in romantic love and mother-infant bonding, among many other physiological functions.
On a human note – People who have been in romantic relationships for three months have been found to have higher oxytocin levels than single people. AND and couples with higher oxytocin levels at three months are more likely to be together six months later!
The Cuteness Factor
We’ve all experienced that warm and fuzzy feeling when we look at a baby or a puppy! Think of what those two individuals have in common – large head, big eyes, widely spaced, chubby cheeks, a little mouth and nose. Instantly for most of us, our caring and protective instincts are activated! That’s oxytocin’s effect!
When I gaze into your eyes~
Human Moms who gaze at their babies while their babies look back at them experience higher levels of oxytocin, which stimulates even more mothering behaviors. Baby’s oxytocin levels rise (thank you Mommy!), and a wonderful positive feedback loop is created!
The same thing seems to happen with many dogs as they gaze at their human owners. Both participants’ oxytocin levels will rise. And when a dog is administered oxytocin nasally, he will gaze longer at his human, AND the human’s level of oxytocin rises, even without any outside administration of oxytocin!
Touch me too!
Oxytocin levels also increase in mothers and babies who touch frequently and decrease when they are prevented from touching.
Research has also looked at different types of petting with dogs and found human and canine “happy hormone” levels rising as well. Additionally, human cortisol levels decrease. Cortisol is an indicator of a stressful reaction. It’s easy to understand how petting and interacting with our four-legged friends would decrease one of our stress hormones.
Different dog breeds have varying sensitivity to oxytocin.
Research exploring the transition of the wolf to our modern day dogs suggests that the four-leggeds with increased genetic sensitivity to oxytocin were the animals that were most willing to interact and bond with humans. Additionally, overall, female dogs are more sensitive to oxytocin and its bonding effects. However, that’s not a blanket statement. Much more research is planned in this area. This work not only highlights the human/dog bond but also offers insights into understanding more fully how oxytocin functions in human/human relationships.
Head research Professor Per Jensen put it this way, and I quote “Oxytocin is extremely important in the social interactions between people. And we also have similar variations in genes in this hormone system. This is why studying dog behaviour can help us understand ourselves, and may in the long term contribute to knowledge about various disturbances in social functioning.”
Ultimately, the warm feelings we generate for our canine and human companions create joy for all! Bonding, playing, exercising, providing and sharing good nourishment, spending quality time – these are the main components of health and happiness! It matters not whether your male or female, those loving feelings are our key to the future!
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