Why Do We Love Our Dogs So Much?

Why Do We Love Our Dogs So Much?

Of all the love that exists between pet owners and their animals, there is perhaps no stronger love that that which exists between human beings and their dogs, and while it is simple to say that it all comes from the heart, this article looks at the science behind the phenomenon of pet ownership love, along with some scientific reasons behind it.

The Beginning Of A Bond Between Humans And Animals

In the 1930’s, a scientist by the name of Konrad Lorenz was raising geese from birth. After a collection of eggs that he had kept hatched, he observed that the newborn geese started following the first thing living thing that they saw, which in this case, was Lorenz himself.

Lorenz became interested in this form of animal behaviour and devoted research to it, and this form of early life attachment became known as imprinting. The term imprinting refers to a specific time early on in an animal’s life when it forms a parental attachment, and it informs animals in a psychological way about who they are and what and where is their place. Subsequently, scientists discovered that there can be a limited timeframe in which imprinting takes place for it to leave a long and lasting impression.

These findings about how animals can be affected at a critical time early on in their lives led to scientists considering how imprinting might be different from other types of learning, and if that imprinting was an inherent behaviour likely related to an animal’s genes.

Oxytocin - The Hormone That Produces The Love Effect

After Lorenz’s findings, scientists learned that the hormone oxytocin plays a role in the imprinting process. Oxytocin is released when human beings bond and it produces a feeling of happiness, and it is an important factor in mother and child bonding. Studies have shown that when a mother and a child look at each other, they both experience a rise in their own individual oxytocin levels.

This same experience occurs between humans and their pets. For example, if you look at your dog, your brain will create more oxytocin, and the same reaction will take place in your pet. It is most likely that many years ago this mutual oxytocin raising experience played an important role in dog domestication.

In terms of biology, our brains use the same neural pathways to rationalise our love for our pets as they do for the love of our family and children, and the same hormone - oxytocin - is involved in this process. And science informs us that the bond between humans and their pets is mutual: both sides experience happiness when in each other’s company, and both benefit from the experience.

Serotonin - The Hormone Responsible For Happiness

Research into the hormone serotonin began to gather pace in the 1950’s, when its effects on humans were being discovered. Serotonin leads to a heightened mood along with less anxiety, and scientists have found it present in both humans and dogs, and the bonding that takes place between humans and dogs creates serotonin. Interaction between the two can lead to lower blood pressure in a person, reduce their levels of stress, and provide other benefits, which might also be the reason that people who own pets tend to live a longer life.

Why Do We Love Looking At A Dog’s Eyes?

The scientist Konrad Lorenz also made observations about what physical characteristics humans found adorable in animals, including “large eyes, bulging craniums, and retreating chins”, among other things. This phenomenon is known as neoteny, and as most pet owners will attest to, neoteny can be found in abundance in their pets.

Over thousands of years, dogs developed movable eyebrows, which is one physiological aspect that owners find cute, and they also developed the ability to make eye contact with humans. Scientists have noted this eye contact as a signifier of the advanced relationship between dogs and humans.

It can be observed that looking at a dog’s eyes and looking at the eyes of a newborn baby can cause the same emotional response in a person, which is to nurture, which might help explain why a dog can feel like a family member.

So, Why Do We Have So Much Love For Dogs?

Scientists have observed that imprinting is a part of the interaction that takes place between humans and companion animals, and that imprinting can play a role in determining who we love and who we choose to spend time with.

Some people even choose to share the company of animals that bear a physical resemblance to them. Often made as a joke, studies have suggested that this is not a coincidence, and there may be reasons of preference behind this companionship.

As the science of pets and pet bonding continue to evolve, we will no doubt discover more about what makes us love our dogs and pets so much, and how and why they continue to contribute so wonderfully to our daily lives.

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