Why Do We Love Dogs? Why Do They Love Us?steve rinker
You love your dog and you know that he loves you right back, but how did that happen? Two completely different species, bonded together – your dog prefers your company to that of other dogs, and chances are you’d rather hang around with him than many of the humans you know.
Science has a few answers. Researchers have discovered that oxytocin, otherwise known as the “feel good” hormone, increases production in our brains when we’re around our dogs. Even more remarkably, when your dog is with you, his oxytocin level spikes! In fact, the level of oxytocin production in our brains is no different when we’re with our dogs than it is when we’re with our children. It just proves what you knew all along – dogs are family.
Researchers from Duke University and the University of Tokyo believe that there is actually a neural feedback loop that has bonded people with their dogs for millennia. They tested the theory by putting people in rooms with their dogs, and then documenting the way in which they interacted. They found that when people and dogs make eye contact, both species increase the production of oxytocin.
But what about when people and wolves interact? No increased oxytocin. When dogs and wolves interact? No increased oxytocin. We are quite simply bonded with dogs.
Are They Our Kids?
You’ve heard the term “fur-kid.” Maybe you think it’s cute, or maybe it makes you cringe. However, Dr. Evan MacLean, who is a Duke University senior research scientist, seems to feel that you might as well suck it up – they ARE our kids. Dogs, he says, look to us as role models when trying to decide what to do in certain situations. Wolves don’t. He also says that brain imaging studies show that women respond to pictures of their dog in the same way that they react to pictures of their human children.
He also found that female dogs release more oxytocin when they’re looking at their people. There were, apparently, no findings on male dogs, so if you suspect that your dog is a “mama’s boy,” there’s nothing to back that up scientifically – you just know!
The Final Word
So, parent and child relationships and oxytocin. Certainly it seems as though our bond with our dogs is based in science. However, in the final analysis, does it matter? We love our dogs. They love us. Some dog lovers even believe that dogs are proof of the existence of a God who loves us. Consider the following poem, author unknown:
How the Dog Got His Name
When God had made the earth and sky,
The flowers and the trees,
He then made all the animals,
The fish, the birds and bees.
And when at last He’d finished,
Not one was quite the same,
God said, “I’ll walk this earth of mine,
And give each one a name.”
And so He traveled far and wide,
And everywhere He went,
A little creature followed Him,
Until its strength was spent.
When all were named upon the earth,
And in the sky and sea,
The little creature said, “Dear Lord,
There’s not one left for me.”
Kindly the Father said to him,
“I’ve left you to the end,
I’ve turned my own name back to front,
And call you DOG, my friend.”
Probably, in the final analysis, that’s as good an explanation as any of the role that our dogs play in our lives, and why we love them so much.