Why You Love Dogs

As many as 80 million dogs share homes with their people in the United States, illustrating just how much we love our canine friends. If dog is your copilot, must love dogs is on your dating profile, and you can’t imagine life without a friendly furry face at the end of the day, you’re definitely not alone. Though getting accurate estimates is a little tough, dogs were definitely among the first animals to be domesticated, and they were bred not just as working animals, but also as companions. New research indicates that the connection between dogs and people runs deeper than years of living and loving together: There’s an actual biological basis for why you love dogs.

The story behind our love for dogs is one of chemical attraction; it probably explains why we domesticated them in the first place, and may explain the success of certain dog breeds as our ancestors refined their relationship with their canine associates. Understanding the relationship between humans and dogs isn’t just purely academic, either: It may help us work with service animals more effectively, understand why some dog breeds are more gentle than others, conduct more accurate behavioral screening, help dogs recover from trauma, and more. This study could open the door to more research examining the biochemical links between humans and dogs, which would be mutually beneficial for both species.

Japanese researcher Takefumi Kikusui, who works primarily with the hormone oxytocin, originated this study. Also known as the “trust hormone,” oxytocin is perhaps most famous in the case of bonding between mothers and infants. When babies can’t communicate in other ways, they need to rely on other tactics for forging connections with their mothers. Holding infants, gazing into their eyes, and interacting with them causes levels of the hormone to rise in both mother and child. That stimulates not just a bond, but the release of breast milk

Given the close emotional bond between moms and their babies, Kikusui started thinking about humans and their fur babies. While he knew there wasn’t a one to one match, he started to suspect that oxytocin levels might be playing a role in the human-canine relationship, and it turns out that he was right. He had dogs and their people come into the lab and took samples before and after half-hour interactions, finding that hormone levels increased significantly. While there are lots of factors involved in loving pets, this is clearly one of them: People experience an involuntary hormone response, relaxing and feeling more affectionate towards dogs when they’re around them.

Historically, that probably means that dogs capable of stimulating oxytocin production and tapping into the feedback loop between humans and canines were more likely to be selected and bred for domestication. That biochemical relationship defined the dogs we have today, many of whom have open, wide-eyed faces that we think of as “cute” — in other words, they look like babies. Today, it explains why service dogs in particular — as opposed to service animals of other species — can be valuable for people with psychiatric disorders who need animals to help them perform tasks, stay on track, and cope with mental health episodes. It may also explain why service dog handlers in general bond so closely with their partners, as they have not just a working relationship but a more intimate one.

Understanding interactions with this hormone may also help us identify and address dog aggression, train dogs more effectively to address behavior problems, and give shelter dogs a second chance. It also illustrates that the connection between dogs and people is much more complicated than a wolf slinking up to a warm fire on a cold night.

Photo credit: Céline

95 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Suzana Megles
Suzana Megles3 years ago

How cute. Sara says she is a cat person but also loves dogs. I am the reverse. I am a dog person but also loves cats. Having had to care for both of them, I find caring for dogs much easier. Try grooming a cat who doesn't want to be groomed. Trying pilling a cat. I find it terribly difficult. However, I'm glad that a lot of people can overcome these problems and love their cats all the same.

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Sara G.
Sara G3 years ago

I'm a cat person at heart, but I love dogs too, along with all the rest of the animal world.

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Christopher P.
Christopher P3 years ago

That's right. Give your dog a hug.

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Miriam O.

Thank you so much for sharing with us! I love dogs and ALL animals!

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Sharon S.
Sharon S3 years ago

I love all dogs and all dogs should be loved and have a loving home.

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Sherri S.
Sherri S3 years ago

My dog, Ladybug is my best friend. She does not care what I look like, how much money I have, etc. all she cares is that I love her.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thanks

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Noel Stiles
Noel Stiles3 years ago

I have had a dog and a cat since my pre-school days and I am an old man of 77 now. My current dog is an 8 year old deaf Boston terrier Jonty, the most lovable little guy. My current cat Pikkie is an 18 year old born in our yard. Someone threw his mother over our high wall and she gave birth birth to Pikkie and Comet. My son Malcolm adopted Comet. I would be completely lost without my two pets, who by the way spend just about all of their time together.

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Ruth S.
Ruth C3 years ago

I love all animals.

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