Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

What’s So Special About Dogs?

So now we know when dogs became a close companion for humans but do you know why? What makes the relationship between humans and dogs so special? Why are we attracted to dogs? And, as dog lovers, why do we feel the need to pet every dog we see on the street?


The strong  chemistry between dog and owner is believed to be caused by the hormone Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that has a number of effects on the human brain. Through experiments and tests, scientists have found that Oxytocin, in humans, is responsible for:

  • Bonding
  • Increasing trust and reducing fear
  • And increases empathy

Oxytocin is also known to have profound effects on mood and increases happiness and love.


A 2005 paper called ‘Oxytocin increases trust in humans’, published in Nature, simply states that “…intranasal administration of oxytocin…causes a substantial increase in trust among humans…”. The paper explored the effects of oxytocin in humans and their interactions with each other in hypothetical situations involving money and investments. It was noted that the increase in oxytocin led the subjects to be more trustworthy in the situations and more willing to invest.


Much of the research into oxytocin has been based on human-human interactions until a team of Japanese veterinarians conducted a study involving dogs  and wolves, and their owners. During the study, owners would gaze into their dog’s eyes for a specified period of time and found that ‘gaze’ caused a profound increase in oxytocin between both dogs and owners. It was also found that talking and petting had a lesser effect.

The team measured urinary oxytocin levels in both dogs and owners before and after 30 minutes of interaction with each other and found a spike in the hormone levels in both the dog and the owner. With the hormone known to increase trust, bonding, empathy and ease fear, it makes sense that the bond between canine and owner is incredibly strong.


Another interesting point that came up in the study is that wolves, the ancestor of today’s domestic dogs, did not experience any spike in oxytocin with their owner. I believe, that this suggests ‘man’s best friend’ has evolved over time to pick up on social cues and behavioural traits associated with human interaction.  They’ve learned a way to connect with us that wolves never could, just one of the many ways that dogs have evolved over the years.








2 comments on “What’s So Special About Dogs?

  1. Pingback: Dogs: The Key To Health | Deakin Communicating Science 2016

  2. apmcdona
    May 11, 2016

    I loved reading this post as I have a great love for all animals (I have heaps of pets, so I can absolutely understand that dogs can produce these good feelings).

    I found it extremely interesting that the oxytocin levels not only increased in the humans after looking into each others eyes, but also in the dogs! I am curious to know if any other animal has the same effect as dogs. This article ( I found shows studies with more than one animal. A dog and goat played with each other whilst having oxytocin levels measured, and it showed that there was an increase of levels in the dog, and an even bigger increase in the goat, which suggests that inter-species interaction can cause increases in oxytocin.

    I would love to see more studies about this with different kinds of pets. Thank you so much for sharing this information, great blog and great read!


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This entry was posted on May 9, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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