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Loyal dogs eyes mirror the love for the boss


If your dog you stares at you, is that not necessarily to beg. Eye contact is the corner stone for the bond between man and dog, Japanese researchers discovered.

The warm bond between dogs and their owners seems to be the same as between parent and child: by looking at each other, they feel kinship. At making eye contact between dog and owner they make extra oxytocin, better known as the ‘ hug hormone ‘, that gives affection. It also works the other way around: do you give a dog extra oxytocin, they go look at their owner even more.

Striking: with wolves, the closest relatives of the dog, does this social bonding mechanism between man and animal not work. Even if they have been brought up by people. The system must therefore have arisen during the domestication of the dog, at the same time with dogs and humans, the researchers write in the journal Science.

The Japanese did put thirty dogs each in a separate room with their owner and they were allowed half an hour together. Ex-ante and ex-post was the concentration oxytocin in the urine of boss and dog measured. Dog owners who had the most eye contact with their four-legged friend, were found to have the highest concentration of oxytocin in their urine-and therefore in their brain-to have. This was the same for the dogs.


In a second experiment a new group of dogs got in advance oxytocin or a saline solution administered through their muzzle. Owners and dogs spent half an hour together in one space and the owners were not allowed to pet their dog during the experiment. The females that had been given oxytocin had more eye contact with their owners. With the males there was no difference, so it is possible that females are more sensitive to oxytocin. The owners of the treated dogs had oxytocin concentrations increased again after half an hour.

Catholijn Jonkers, Professor of intelligent systems of the TU Delft, is responding enthusiastically to the research. That eye contact between dogs and humans is so important, amazes her. She points to a Hungarian study, where dogs and wolves who were reased by people had to perform a difficult task. If the task didn’t work, the dogs asked for help by looking to their human companions. Wolves did not.

Photo credit: LuAnn Snawder Photography / Foter /CC BY-ND

About Frank Scheers

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