Dogs bond with owners just by looking
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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Oh, those puppy eyes.

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

Owners can do a similar trick in return, researchers found.

This two-way street evidently began when dogs were domesticated long ago. That's 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. It was 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. Think of it like an bond between a parent and an infant.

One experiment in the new research involved 30 owners and their dogs. Oxytocin levels in the urine of both species were sampled. The levels were measured 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. It is what 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. That is instead of 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. She directs the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

But Clive Wynne of Arizona State University disagrees. He is a psychologist who studies interaction between dogs and people. He 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 studies bonding behavior. He 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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  • BrynnDani
    4/22/2015 - 02:00 p.m.

    I found this article very interesting. I had no idea that there was more to your dog staring at you then it just being after your food. I never knew you could improve your relationship with your pet just by looking at them.

  • Sarahs-OBr
    4/22/2015 - 02:01 p.m.

    This is a really cool article. I think that the reason they put wolves in this study is because dogs are related to wolves, so they were trying to figure out where this bond comes from. They tested it and found out that the bond with owners did not work on wolves. This might be because trained dogs love and their owners. Dogs grow up with people and can get used to them, while wolves are wild creatures that would probably kill you if threatened.

  • KieraC-Ste
    4/22/2015 - 02:50 p.m.

    Wolves are mentioned in this article because they are the animal that created dogs. One thing wolves have in common with dogs are that wolves are just like dogs. The only thing that wolves and dogs are different is that wolves are wild and dogs are pets.

  • marilyna819
    4/22/2015 - 02:54 p.m.

    I think that it is so cool that the scientists figured out this experiment and I think that the reason that they tried the experiment on wolves also is to see if the dogs got that from the ancestors, wolves.

  • KathyM122
    4/22/2015 - 03:07 p.m.

    How interesting! Not many people think that the dog's just trying to bond. When a dog stares at them the might think "what do you want now Rover!" or "Hey! This is my sandwich". Some dogs are greedy and some are just plain kind.

  • DominicP-Kut
    4/22/2015 - 03:41 p.m.

    I think its amazing that the bond between is not mental its also chemical. Although dogs are sweet and kind its nice to know that they are not after our food.

  • Makiyap1025
    4/22/2015 - 04:07 p.m.

    Dogs are one of the few animals that will put you first. It amazing to watch them stand up for their owners. I also heard that a dog will never betray their owners no matter what. I hope that's true.

  • gracek-Fit
    4/22/2015 - 04:18 p.m.

    I think that wolves were used in the study because they are very closely related to dogs, but still a different animal, to get more results. Dogs are the ancestors of wolves, are both carnivores, and share the same classification up until species, where the dog is "canis lupus familiaris" while the wolf is "canis lupus." However, dogs are domesticated, have slightly different body proportions, a longer life expectancy, and have less instinct to hunt and kill for survival.

  • StephanieS-3
    4/22/2015 - 07:50 p.m.

    There is a study that researches the bond that dogs and humans make right when they just gaze into each other's eyes. The first thing to do is present the biological mechanism for bonding different species. The initial brain response is an increase in hormones. Another experiment was to see what makes a dog look at you longer. What makes them do that is if they are given high doses of oxytocin. I think that this is true because I can tell when a dog is making a connection with its owner. I like to play with dogs.

  • Madison4698
    4/22/2015 - 08:25 p.m.

    I feel that this is something that actually happens because I have a dog and when she looks at me and I look at her we seem to have some sort of special bond between us.

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