When your dog looks at you, it might not be just wanting your sandwich according to new research. When your dog gives you eye contact it is bonding in an incredibly instinctive way.
Researchers in Japan have discovered what dog owners have possibly always known intuitively, that dogs and owners share that very special bond normally thought of as a bond between a mother and baby, and stimulate oxytocin during eye contact. Just looking at each other will have a material effect on yours and your dog’s happiness much like how a mother and a baby bonds through exchanging looks and building trust.
“As the dogs gazed at their owner, the owner’s oxytocin secretion got stronger,” Azabu University’s Miho Nagasawa said.
“And then that enhanced the owners to touch their dogs, and the nurturing and attachment behaviour got stronger.”
“That led to the dogs’ oxytocin levels [getting] higher, [and] made the dogs gaze at their owners more.”
Their future research will examine if dogs can sympathise with human emotions.
Tell us what you think today… Do you have a special bond with your dog?
According to a report in Science and a follow up article in the New York Times, the research found that a dog’s gaze cues connection and response in the owner, who will reward the dog by gazing, talking and touching, all of which helps solder the two, the researchers said. The research suggested that dogs became domesticated in part by adapting to a primary human means of contact: eye-to-eye communication.
The researchers involved observed behaviour, then gave dogs extra oxytocin through a nasal spray, the female dogs (though not the males) gazed at their owners even longer, which in turn boosted the owners’ oxytocin levels.
Dogs, according to the report and a commentary accompanying it, have potentially been domesticated through this emotional connection with their owner, and this is primarily drawn by their eyes.
Evan L. MacLean, co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Centre said, “We don’t know what the dog’s gaze means. When you look at a human baby, it feels good. Maybe dogs gaze at you because it feels good. Maybe the dogs are hugging you with their eyes?”
But Dr. MacLean, an evolutionary anthropologist, said that fundamentally, for dogs, human behaviour is “the telltale of everything that is about to happen.” Are we going to stand or sit? Leave the room? Bring food?
And so they stare at us, fixedly.
“If I was dropped on Mars,” Dr. MacLean said, “and everyone was speaking a language I didn’t understand, and I knew I could never acquire their language, I’d just give up. But dogs don’t. They’re not reluctant to tune in to us at every moment.”
Does your dog stare at you? Does this provide some insight into the intuitive relationship you have with him or her.