Oxytocin and the Human-Canine Bond

There are many benefits to owning a pet. Dogs and cats can help improve healthy lifestyles, reduce stress and anxiety, and according to the American Heart Association, owning a dog can reduce your risk of heart disease. Petting your dog for 10 minutes doesn’t just melt away your woes; it also benefits your dog by building a social bond together.

Oxytocin, referred to as the bonding hormone, is released in both humans and canines during prolonged eye gazing or touching. The effects of oxytocin are similar when a mother locks eyes with her infant. A special bond is formed between the two individuals. A recent study published in Science Magazine, “Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds” explains such evidence of the human-canine relationship and the benefits that exist for dogs.

We’ve all had those intense staring contests with our dog. You may have even wondered if they meant anything to Fido. The answer is yes — you are building social reward. The study further explains that dogs can discriminate humans, meaning they can identify those that are familiar to them and have seen before. This allows for better obedience and training.

It’s best to only gaze into the eyes of a dog you know and a dog that is familiar with you. Dogs that do not recognize you may interpret direct eye contact as a threat. As a reminder, if you want to interact with a dog that is not yours, always ask permission from the owner before approaching their pet.