Explaining the Human-Canine Connection
For thousands of years, dogs have been human’s best friends across many cultures. The word “puppy” is thought to have been adapted from the French poupée, or doll. Folk stories were filled with dogs: the Africans spoke of Rukuba, the dog who brought us fire; the Welsh told the tale of the faithful hound Gelert, who saved a prince’s baby from a wolf. People took to including their dog in family portraits and in their wills. We have all heard, and many experienced, the deep silent connection with dogs, but why does it exist?
In the past few years, research has come to light showing how dogs have essentially “hacked” the human bonding system. This research, done by Takefumi Kikusui, an animal behaviorist at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan, shows that when our canine pals stare into our eyes, they activate the same hormonal response that bonds us to human infants. Kikusui’s lab studies oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in maternal bonding, trust, and more. Previous studies have shown that when a mother stares into her baby’s eyes, the baby’s oxytocin levels rise, which causes the infant to stare back into its mother’s eyes, which causes the mother to release more oxytocin, and so on. This feedback loop seems to create a strong emotional bond between mother and child during the early part of their life.
In Kikusui’s study, dogs were put in a room with their owners. The researchers tracked their interaction over 30 minutes and measured oxytocin levels through urine samples. People whose dogs had the most eye contact with them registered the largest increases in oxytocin levels. The dogs also had an oxytocin spike correlating to the spike of their owner. Of the duos that had spent the greatest amount of time looking into each other’s eyes, both male and female dogs experienced a 130% rise in oxytocin levels, and both male and female owners a 300% increase.The researchers conducted a similar experiment with wolves, close relatives of dogs, to see if there were any similarities but found that no increase in oxytocin occurred, despite the fact that the wolves had been raised by people. In an additional experiment with only dogs, the team repeated the same essential procedure, except this time they gave the dogs a nasal spray of oxytocin before they interacted with their owners. Female dogs given the nasal spray spent 150% more time gazing into the eyes of their owners, who in turn saw a 300% spike in their oxytocin levels. No effect was seen in male dogs or in dogs given a placebo nasal spray.
The results suggest that human-dog interactions elicit the same type of oxytocin positive feedback loop as seen between mothers and their infants, and that may explain why we feel so close to our dogs, and vice versa. Kikusui says the nasal spray may have affected only female dogs because oxytocin plays a greater role in female reproduction.We recently sat down with the wonderful Dr. Robin Downing to discuss a study she led looking into the benefits of using HempMy Pet’s full-spectrum hemp to manage pain in osteoarthritic dogs. She shares her thoughts on the bond between humans and their dogs, stating that, “when dogs feel better, their owner feels better, and when the owner feels better, the dog feels better because we know there is an emotional bond that is very reciprocal… Utilizing a tool like full-spectrum CBD to relieve pain and to improve comfort and quality of life ultimately contributes to a real strengthening of the human-animal bond.”
When you have a chance, check out the study linked above to learn more, but not before you take a moment to stare into your best friend’s eyes and enjoy an oxytocin boost you both will benefit from.