Magazine article USA TODAY

Love and Be Loved Return

Magazine article USA TODAY

Love and Be Loved Return

Article excerpt

The human-canine connection represents a unique interspecies bond. Since the domestication of dogs from their wolf ancestors between 11,000 and 16,000 years ago, dogs have had a major impact on our development as a species. They have played a wide variety of roles in our lives, acting as guide dogs, sled dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, drug dogs, rescue dogs, therapy dogs--you name it.

Nonetheless, we are most familiar with the role of dogs in the modern family. A survey by Del Monte Foods showed that 81% of dog owners consider their pooches to be equal members of their families, while 35% of those surveyed even admitted to referring to their dogs as "son" or "daughter." In a separate poll, 45% of dog owners reported that they take their pets on vacation, and 50% were "very likely" to risk their lives in order to save their pets.

Yet, is it even possible for dogs to reciprocate these feelings? Researchers believe that, when it comes to the emotional capabilities of dogs, their brains are roughly equivalent to that of a two-and-a-half year old infant. This means that dogs are most likely incapable of showing more complex emotions like shame, pride, guilt, or contempt--but they still are capable of love.

What kinds of internal systems help us humans experience this love? According to some studies, it is the release of oxytocin, which helps facilitate our love for dogs. Informally known as the "love hormone," oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and has been found to have an impact on emotional responses that contribute to psychological stability, trust, relaxation, and social bonding.

On the other side, our canine partners also use oxytocin as a means of bonding. An experiment performed at Emory University showed that dogs sprayed with oxytocin displayed higher social orientation and affiliation towards their owners. …

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