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
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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)
  • franklynm-Koc
    4/27/2015 - 02:52 a.m.

    Dogs and Wolves have a lot of the same sense. But i do not believe that dogs bond to humans just by sight. i believe that is developed through time as the owner and dog are together. Dogs and wolves are similar by sight, smell, and how they feel and certain things they do.

  • dianaz-Che
    4/27/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    I thought that staring at each other would trigger some tension. I guess not, that's just them trying to bond. I find that interesting and weird at the same time

  • stephanieg-Che
    4/27/2015 - 01:57 p.m.

    I find it cool that the animals can trigger a response in the owner's brain. It is weird how they tested the Oxytocin levels in the urine and that's how found that they trigger a response.

  • CharismaM
    4/29/2015 - 09:36 p.m.

    I find it interesting that dogs can communicate with their owners just by looking at them. That explains why a lot of people prefer dogs over any other pet. They are very loyal to their owners.

  • austinw-Goo
    4/30/2015 - 10:37 a.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.

  • azaylag-Koc
    4/30/2015 - 03:43 p.m.

    Wolves are involved in this study because they are part of the dog families, and are the first dog species. I feel they have many similarities , and what's different is wolves are meant to be in the wild and dogs are more family pets

  • azaylag-Koc
    4/30/2015 - 03:43 p.m.

    Wolves are involved in this study because they are part of the dog families, and are the first dog species. I feel they have many similarities , and what's different is wolves are meant to be in the wild and dogs are more family pets

  • tonip-Koc
    5/03/2015 - 09:10 p.m.

    My dog and I have a very strong bond. I love my dog more than most people honestly. I feel that this statement is very true because when I look at my dog I feel so happy because he's the cutest and best dog.

  • alexisb-Koc
    5/03/2015 - 11:23 p.m.

    ironically, my dog was just staring at me. Anyways, I have noticed that dogs always stare at their owners, especially with the ones I've had. I think this is beautiful, dogs are always so loyal and caring towards their owners and it's because they have such a connection with them. Also, on the wolf ancestory factor, I always howl at my dog and she howls back to me. I find that to be very interesting and cool. Dogs in general are just my favourite things.

  • raevynj-Koc
    5/04/2015 - 12:04 a.m.

    Wolves and dogs I believe are only slightly alike. I think it's cool that you can bond with your dog by site. I believe this because when they see you they wiggle and get super excited to see you. They know who you are.

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