Proof that puppy love is mutual for dogs and owners
Dog owners love their pets in the same way as they do their children, and the feeling is mutual, scientists have found.
Researchers found that the levels of the hormone oxytocin increases in both human and canine brains when a dog is gazing at its owner. Oxytocin is known to play a strong role in triggering feelings of unconditional love and protection when parents and children look into each other's eyes or embrace.
The findings suggest owners love their pets in the same way as family members, and dogs return their devoted affection. "These results suggest that humans may feel affection for their companion dogs similar to that felt toward human family members," said Dr Miho Nagasawa, from the department of animal science at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan.
"Oxytocin plays a primary role in regulating social bonding between mother and infants and between sexual partners." The researchers from the University of Tokyo and Duke University in the United States believe that oxytocin creates a "neural feedback loop" that has strengthened the bond between humans and dogs for millennia.
To test the theory, researchers put dogs in a room with their owners and documented every interaction between them, such as talking, touching and gazing. They then measured levels of oxytocin in urine and discovered increased eye contact between dogs and humans had driven up levels of the hormone in both species. However, when they performed the same experiments on wolves raised by humans there was no increase in oxytocin, suggesting it evolved during the domestication of dogs that began 34,000 years ago.
Dr Evan MacLean, a senior research scientist at Duke University, said that dogs had learnt to "hijack" the bonding pathway between parents and their children. "It's really only in the last couple of thousand years that we have kept dogs as pets, and dogs began to be able to relate to humans in meaningful social ways," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)