Scientists Admit Your Dog Really Does Love You

Why is it that dogs seem to have such a special bond with humans? Is it because we as a species have been hanging aound dogs for so long? The exact timing of dog domestication from their ancestors, the grey wolf, is still shrouded in the mists of history, but is thought to have occured between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. That’s a long association.

Turns out, that may not be the exact reason. One of the most intriguing new research findings is from Japan. A 2015 study led by Takefumi Kikusui at Azabu University showed that when humans and dogs look deeply into each others’ eyes, there is a rise in the level of the hormone oxytocin in both the dogs and humans. This phenomenon has also been observed between mothers and their babies, leading researchers to dub oxytocin as the “love’ hormone.

But it was a study done years before, in 2009 by Bridgett vonHoldt, a geneticist at UCLA, that is even more intriguing. Her findings indicate that dogs have a mutation in a gene that in humans is responsible for a condition known as Williams syndrome. People with Williams syndrome have intellectual limits and they are very, very gregarious. 

In dogs, this mutation does not involve intellectual limits but manifests itself in another characteristic common to those with Williams syndrome…namely a strong desire to have close and warm personal relationships with others. In other words, to love and to be loved.

Scientists have long been adverse to attributing complex human emotions to any animal, including dogs. But now that research is giving more weight to the possibility. So much so, that now Clive Wynne, the founder of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, admits he changed his mind about the idea. 

He too believed for a long time that attributing an emotion such as “love” to a dog was simply anthropomorphism, but he became a believer after a growing body of evidence became simply overwhelming. He documents his journey and his finding in his book Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.

But for us dog owners, this comes as no surprise. We knew it all along!

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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