There is evidence that dates back more than 10,000 years which suggests that humans were bonding with canines even back then. But have you ever wondered why we are able to form such strong bonds with dogs? A recent study gets to the bottom of that question.
The study, performed at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and published in the February 2015 edition of the journal Animal Cognition, suggests that oxytocin could be the answer. The so-called “love hormone” has been extensively studied in humans and it has been proven to increase the trust level of our species. It is also the chemical that fosters the bond between mothers and their babies.
A graduate student in biology, Jessica Oliva, is the lead author of the study. Oxytocin is a chemical that is released by the brain in reaction to close contact like cuddling. Oliva’s study shows that this chemical may be responsible for the inter-species bonding between humans and dogs, and it could be the reason that dogs pay such close attention to our social cues.
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In the study, 62 male and female domesticated dogs of varying breeds were used. The dogs were encouraged to find food in one of two bowls by following the hand signals of a human. They had never met the human before this study.
During the first phase of the research, the dogs were tested after being given a nasal spray containing oxytocin. A researcher stood in the middle of the room and pointed to the bowl that contained the food. After the oxytocin had worked its way out of the dog’s system, they were given a nasal spray containing only salt water and had to perform the same experiment again.
Each time the dogs were rated on their ability to find the food in the bowl. Researchers found that the dogs performed better after receiving the oxytocin spray. Not only did they perform better that day, but the performance boost continued for up to 15 days after the oxytocin spray was used.
The fact that they followed human cues better after inhaling oxytocin, suggests that the hormone enhances the dog’s ability to act on human social cues. Oliva believes that this suggests that oxytocin played a key part in the domestication of canines.
This research is certainly interesting, but it is just the first step in figuring out how oxytocin actually affects the canine brain. Experts in the field are hoping that more research will be done to look at the receptors in the dogs’ brain, and research also needs to be performed to measure the exact levels of oxytocin in the animals system during the trials.