Any loving dog owner knows the feeling: your dog fixes his big brown eyes on you, you look back at him and feel a surge of affection, his tail wags, you scratch that one spot behind his ears that he likes, he smiles up at you. It’s a loop of mutual affection that can feel weirdly. . . human.
If these moments of bonding with your dog feel weirdly human, it’s because they are. We humans bond emotionally when we gaze into each other’s eyes—remember what it felt like when you were a teenager just gazing into your bf/gf’s eyes?
This is due to the hormone oxytocin that floods our brains when we make eye contact with people we care about. Oxytocin is associated with affection and attachment—it’s the same hormone that facilitates bonding between a parent and child.
Science now shows that dogs can bond with humans in the exact same way. In 2015, researchers found that dogs who gazed into the eyes of their owners also experienced elevated levels of oxytocin. The dogs did! After receiving long gazes from their pets, the owners’ levels of oxytocin increased, too. Aww!
This is where it gets crazy. The researchers did the same experiment with human-raised wolves and found that wolves rarely made eye contact with their humans. What’s more, when they did make eye contact, neither pet wolf nor human had raised levels of oxytocin.
From this, scientists conclude that domesticated dogs adapted this very human form of social communication when they evolved away from their wolf ancestors. Not even chimpanzees, human’s closest relative, has figured out a way to do this. It’s a unique, secret way of human-dog bonding that we humans can do with our best doggy friends.
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