Dogs bond with owners just by looking A Welsh corgi competes in the ring with its owner on the second day of Crufts dog show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England (AP photo / Thinkstock)
Dogs bond with owners just by looking
Lexile

Just by gazing at their owners, dogs can trigger a response in their masters' brains that helps them bond, a study says.

And owners can do a similar trick in return, researchers found.

This two-way street evidently began when dogs were domesticated long ago, because it helped the two species connect, the Japanese researchers say.

As canine psychology experts Evan MacLean and Brian Hare of Duke University wrote in a commentary on the work, "When your dog is staring at you, she may not just be after your sandwich."

The new work is the first to present a biological mechanism for bonding across species, said researcher Larry Young of Emory University.

Neither he nor the Duke scientists were involved in the study, which is reported in a paper from Japan released by the journal Science.

The brain response is an increase in levels of a hormone called oxytocin. Studies in people and animals indicate this substance promotes social bonding, such as between parent and infant.

One experiment in the new research involved 30 owners and their dogs. Oxytocin levels in the urine of both species were sampled before and after the owners and their dogs spent a half-hour together.

Analysis showed that owners whose dogs looked at them longer in the first five minutes had bigger boosts in oxytocin levels. Similarly, dogs that gazed longer got a hormone boost, too. That's evidently in response to being touched by their owners during the session, one of the study authors, Takefumi Kikusui of Azabu University near Tokyo, said in an email.

No such result appeared when researchers tried the experiment with wolves. The animals were paired with people who had raised them, although not as pets. The difference suggests dogs started gazing at owners as a social strategy when they became domesticated, rather than inheriting it from their wolf ancestors, researchers said.

Another experiment with dogs found they looked at their owners longer if they were given doses of oxytocin and that the hormone's levels then went up in their owners. But these results appeared only in female dogs; the reason isn't clear.

An oxytocin researcher not connected to the study said previous work had provided bits of evidence that the hormone plays a role in bonding between species, but that the new work is more comprehensive.

"It makes very good sense," said C. Sue Carter, who directs the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

But Clive Wynne of Arizona State University, a psychologist who studies interaction between dogs and people, said he thinks the link to domestication is "barking up the wrong tree." The study doesn't provide convincing evidence for that, he said.

Emory's Young, who studies bonding behavior, said the relationship between people and dogs is special. Human love can lose its initial exhilaration over time, he said, but he hasn't seen that with the dogs he has owned for 10 years.

"When I come home from work every day, they are just as excited to see me now as they were when I got them," Young said.

Critical thinking challenge: Why were wolves used in the study? What do wolves have in common with dogs? How are they different from dogs?

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COMMENTS (27)
  • Haley Patterson
    4/22/2015 - 01:44 p.m.

    I think that this is so cool and I totally believe it. I always kind of wondered how pets can be so attached to their owners when most of the time, the owners are out. Reading this article helped me better to understand.

  • MaxG-4
    4/23/2015 - 12:10 p.m.

    This article is about the interaction of dogs and people. Whenever dogs look at humans for a period of time, or vice versa, an extra amount of hormones would be released. It is believed that this could be a reason of domestication of dogs. However the same thing does not work on domesticated wolves, so it could be just a dog-specific response. Certain scientists are denying the results saying it s just showing that can form a bond, and would not lead to true domestication if I understood correctly.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    4/23/2015 - 07:49 p.m.

    I think it's cool that this can be proven because oxytocin is the same chemical released when a baby is born. This is just one more reason to prove that dogs really are a man's best friend.

  • noahd-Goo
    4/24/2015 - 09:32 a.m.

    Dogs have a sense of social bonding with their owners. The text states that dogs stare at their owners and both levels of their oxytocin increased. The text also states that when dogs were domesticated, it was a way for the dog and owner to bond. The evidence from the text suggests that dogs don't care just about food, but bond with their owners as well.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    4/24/2015 - 01:06 p.m.

    This a great experiment! I never would have realized that we are the effected by dogs and dogs likewise. That would explain why dogs are mans best friend.

  • GrantW-2
    4/24/2015 - 06:09 p.m.

    This article is about how dogs bond with their owners by looking at them. Dogs release a chemical in there brain that stimulates love when they look at the person who raised them. The longer dogs look the better they feel about their owner. The test did not work when wolves were used because they werent brought up as pets.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    4/26/2015 - 12:39 p.m.

    I have always heard people say not to stare at a dog or look at them for a long time because they well take it as a challenge. That is probably meant for dogs that you don't know well, but it seems weird that when owners and their dog's look at each other it helps them to bond, yet when a stranger and a dog look at each other for a while it creates tension.

  • jocelync-Koc
    4/27/2015 - 01:00 a.m.

    This is a pretty cool article and knowing more about what dogs are capable of sensing. Now when I look at my dog I know to appreciate it more and not think they want my food. But then again dogs are always a girls best friend.

  • shannons-Koc
    4/27/2015 - 01:59 a.m.

    Wolves are used in this study because dogs evolved from wolves. Wolves were the first species of dogs to roam the earth. In the early sign of human life, wolves adapted by genetic mutation causing them to feel less threatened by humans, but more obedient. Now a days there are hundreds to thousands of dog species.

  • mattf-Koc
    4/27/2015 - 02:10 a.m.

    I think this is pretty cool. I have a good bond with my dog and now that I think about it we do spend a lot of time together and are probably looking at each other a lot as a result. Maybe I will just have to continue to do so.

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