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The history of humans and dogs goes back more than 30,000 years, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors began the process of the domestication of wolves. Who knows if they realized just how significant this would be!
It is no secret that humans tend to bond deeply with their dogs. Most people consider their pooches to be an important part of the family, and there are countless stories out there celebrating the unique bond between humans and dogs. We depend on our dogs as our companions, our guardians, in some cases even our heroes! Even if your dog isn’t out there fighting crime, you probably can’t deny just how much you adore them.
But why do we feel so much love for our dogs? Is there a special connection between us?
Actually, yes! It turns out that research has shown interacting with dogs decreases negative hormone levels in humans, while increasing positive ones responsible for social attachments. Dogs have specifically evolved overtime to bond strongly with humans!
There’s much to learn when it comes to the human-dog connection, so let’s take go ahead and take a look at the some of the main reasons we feel the way we do.
Reason One: They Make Us Feel Better
Who hasn’t snuggled with their dog after a particularly bad day? There’s hardly anything better than sitting down and snuggling up with a soft, ever loving companion. We may just accept that our dogs provide us comfort as fact, but there’s actually scientific evidence that shows just how our canine pals help settle our nerves when we’re feeling a little rough around the edges.
When compared to the levels of participants who were given solitary moments of quiet rest, study participants who instead engaged with a therapy dog over that same time period had notably reduced stress hormone levels. Changes could be seen in as little as five minutes, and were even seen in people who weren’t reportedly dog owners themselves.
Blood pressure and heart rate are another area where positive interactions with a dog notably impacted humans on a biologically measurable level. A particular study focused on children participants, but showed that when a friendly dog was present the children experienced lower blood pressure and heart rates.
Even when it comes to those suffering from more serious medical conditions were found to experience positive impacts from animal-assisted therapy, even if it was just an decrease in stress levels. One might also say that you don’t exactly need a scientific report to see and believe the results a therapy dog can bring to those in need. Who can help but feel a smile coming when they see a friendly dog coming their way?
The Harvard Medical School even released a report succinctly titled, “Having a dog can help your heart — literally”, where they touch upon the possibility of a cause and effect relationship between pet ownership and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Between lowering stress levels, increasing socialization, and encouraging their owners to get more exercise, there’s a lot backing up the findings!
Some of the wonderful canines involved in the process can be seen in Harvard’s short summary video on the report, shared below.
The findings of these studies and reports all are fascinating, but are they truly behind the deep connections we feel with our dogs? It would make sense if we were just more inclined to feel a bond with an animal that eases our stress and anxiety levels. Still, for many owners, that feels like only part of a bigger picture.
In fact, it turns out that lowering our stress levels isn’t the only biological reaction we experience from interacting with dogs! Which leads us to…
Reason Two: We Trigger Each Other’s “Love Hormone”
Oxytocin has earned quite a name for itself over years of scientific research. Known best, perhaps, for being the hormone produced when humans fall in love and form close attachments, it may not be surprising to learn that oxytocin comes into play when we dig deeper into the powerful connections we feel with our dogs.
Researchers discovered that, much like how humans experience an increase in oxytocin when we gaze into each other’s eyes, that particular effect is also seen between humans and dogs! It isn’t a one-way street, either – both humans and dogs involved in the study experienced increased oxytocin levels as a result of this “mutual gazing.” Some examples of the experiments at work, as well as the results seen, can be viewed in the video below.
Oxytocin goes beyond “puppy love” – experts inform us that this hormone is tied closely to our attachments and social behavior. That includes social bonding and is certainly a contributor to the connection we feel with our pets!
It’s important, too, to acknowledge the mutual aspect of this particular fact. While some dogs may struggle with prolonged eye contact, most have benefited from the behavioral evolution that allows them to feel a rush of oxytocin, too. This further strengthens our attachments to each other, and it makes sense that we would feel even closer to an animal that seems to really love us back! Oxytocin also explains a long list of other dog behaviors from checking on you at night to jumping for joy when you wake up and much more.
Reason Three: They Stimulate Our Maternal/Paternal Instincts
We all know people (perhaps even ourselves!) who proudly call themselves dog dads or moms. In a survey of 2,000 dog and cat owners conducted by pet food brand I and love and you, 61% of responders said they consider their pet to be their child.
It turns out that in addition to being known as the love hormone, oxytocin is also a big time player in the bonding process between human mothers and their infants. In fact, experts tell us that this connection is one of the strongest social attachments humans can experience.
This biochemical feedback loop between human and dog helps strengthen our ties with out pets; in a way that is extremely similar to that of human parent-infant connection. Put simply, both dogs and humans have both evolved to strengthen this sensation! The following video brilliantly highlights some interesting findings from Hungarian ethology researchers on one aspect of the similarities in human parent-infant attachments and dog owner-dog attachments.
The animal world is truly incredible, and scientists have discovered some really amazing examples of different species evolving to have similar physical characteristics due to evolving in a similar environments. Arguably even more interesting, though, are examples of this happening on a psychological level.
Interestingly enough, there is evidence of just that happening with dogs. In fact, dogs have evolved to be more similar to us cognitively than we are even to our own closest genetic ancestors! In particular, dogs have developed skills for interpreting human social cues and communication. They’ve even been reported as smiling and laughing, in their own doggie ways.
In information presented by canine researcher Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia, the average dog can learn up to 165 words, including signals. When you really sit back and appreciate that we are entirely different species, that fact truly seems amazing!
Touching back on the oxytocin-inducing mutual gazing behavior seen between dogs and humans, we see another example of how dogs have evolved alongside us. Scientists state the system responsible for that positive loop of oxytocin via eye contact is something definitively not present in the dogs’ closet living relatives.
In fact, even owners participating in the study with hand-raised wolves were not found to experience the mutual gaze oxytocin boost with their companions. This suggests dogs specifically evolved due to the social rewards of gazing, developing the behavior as a mutually beneficial way to strengthen their relationships with humans.
From being able to understand emotional expressions on human faces, having a basic understanding of our language, to the significance of being able to understand the gesture of us pointing, dogs have truly adapted to be man’s best friend.
All of these factors can help explain why, exactly, we feel such a close connection to our dogs and it seems like our pups never get tired of us. It’s literally the product of years of coevolution at work!
Dogs and humans have been working and living together for tens of thousands of years. While we may still not know exactly how the domestication process took place all those years ago, what we do know is that nowadays we have very strong emotional bonds to our dogs. We work with them, we live with them, and we’ve made them important parts of our families.
The connection we feel is the product of years of coevolution at work. Humans and dogs, side by side, adapted to each other harmoniously despite the odds. We overcame the differences in our species and built a common ground for ourselves that is really powerful to behold! While humans have gone on to tame many different species, few could argue we’ve formed a stronger bond than that we have built with dogs.
It’s no secret, then, that humans all across the world love dogs; but with the information available to us now, we know there are actual changes on the biological level when we interact. Changes that we aren’t even necessarily aware of! We are instinctually drawn together. Without a doubt, dogs have left a trail of pawprints firmly alongside our own evolutionary path.
So the next time you find yourself wondering why you feel so connected to your pooch, or why you feel such a feeling of love wash over you when you look into their eyes, remember the years of biological evolution at work. You are celebrating a love story over 30,000 years in the making!