Long Gazes Increase Bond Between You and Your Dog
If you find that you and your dog have a lot of staring contests, it could be a good thing. Recent research has found that making regular eye contact with your dog could actually help both of you to build a stronger bond. While stare-downs may indicate a threat or a challenge to a new or strange dog, locking eyes with your dog could be beneficial.
A biological bond
Scientists from the University of Japan found that dogs and their owners actually develop a biochemical bond that all begins with a look.
"Our data suggests that owner-dog bonding is comparable to human parent-infant bonding, that is, oxytocin-mediated eye-gaze bonding," lead author and animal behaviorist Takefumi Kikusui, Ph.D., told CBS News. "And this is surprising to us because there is not a reproductive relationship between human and dogs, but both of them have acquired similar skills."
According to Psychology Today magazine, oxytocin is a chemical in the brain that is released when you see someone you love, such as when a couple makes eye contact. The hormone release actually makes people feel good, which is why they describe it as a "warm and fuzzy feeling."
Kikusui and his colleagues tested their theory by placing pet parents and their dogs in a room for 30 minutes to see what happened. When the pet parents and their dogs gazed at each other multiple times, their levels of oxytocin increased. They also administered more oxytocin into dogs through their noses to see if it had any added effects. Female dogs tended to glance at their owners more, while it had no effect on male dogs.
The researchers believe that making regular eye contact with pet parents is a form of communication by dogs and a signal of love.
A change over time
The study authors wanted to see when this bond began, so they decided to test wolves too. However, they did not find the same results with the pack as they did with domesticated dogs. Yet both wolves and dogs communicate with their eyes, according to a study from Kyoto University. The Kyoto University researchers found that there are three eye types, involving eye shape, pupil color and face color. They discovered both dogs and wolves have A-type eyes, meaning that both the eye and the pupil are distinct and clear. In B- and C-type eyes, either the pupils or the eyes are unclear. In animals with B-type eyes, the pupil is clear and the eyes are unclear. In those with C-type eyes, the pupil is unclear but the eye is clear. Like dogs and wolves, humans have A-type eyes. So, somewhere along the line of domestication, dogs developed eye contact as a form of communication with their pet parents.
"We speculated that some small population of ancestor of dogs show an affiliative eye gaze toward humans, due to the change in the temperament. In this process, we agree that there is a possibility that dogs cleverly and unknowingly utilize a natural system meant for bonding a parent with his or her child," Kikusui noted.
Remember the next time your dog comes over and puts his head in your lap that love isn't just expressed through treats and petting, but just sharing that longing loving gaze.