Often referred to as the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical,” oxytocin plays a strong role in bonding us with our loved ones. Our pituitary gland naturally releases the hormone during special loving moments like snuggling, orgasms, childbirth, cuddling and breastfeeding. The chemical is also produced synthetically and often administered to pregnant women to induce labor.
How might this chemical affect our four-legged loved ones? Livescience shed some light on this question while reporting on a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
When scientists in Japan gave dogs a quick whiff of an oxytocin nasal spray, the pooches became more affectionate toward their owners. The dogs that received oxytocin sniffed, licked and pawed at their owners more affectionately than before, while the dogs given the simple saline behaved normally. The dogs that got a hit of oxytocin also spent more time sitting close by and staring into their owners’ eyes, a friendly behavior that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recognizes as a sign that the dog hopes to be noticed.
While I can think of a man or two who I’d like to take a quick sniff of oxytocin in my company, I’d prefer not to give it to my own dogs, Sanchez and Gina. I like to think that I’ve created enough positive reinforcement from our play and training sessions together that a drug isn’t needed for their affection.
However, I imagine oxytocin could be very helpful when first bringing a newly adopted, fearful dog home. It can take some dogs a long time to build trust with a new human, and the drug could be tapered off as the dog starts to feel more comfortable. I also wonder if it would improve adoptions rates in shelters if dogs were administered a sniff of oxytocin when potential adopters were in their presence.
The new study was just published June 9, so it remains to be seen how oxytocin will be used with dogs. I can hardly wait to hear about some of the benefits.
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