Researchers at the Companion Animal Research Lab at Azabu University in Japan have found that dogs have found a way to tap into a human bonding mechanism, specifically through the hormone ‘oxytocin’. Oxytocin is typically released when a parent gazes at a newborn infant, and with other child-rearing and group-related activities, strengthening bonds between parent and infant. In their study, the researchers also found that this hormone is also released when a human gazes into the eyes of a dog.

However, for dogs and other canids, eye-contact bonding isn’t normal behavior, and the effect between humans and dogs appears to be unique, and did not appear in a similar study conducted with wolves. "We humans use eye gaze for affiliative communications, and are very much sensitive to eye contact," says study co-author Takefumi Kikusui, professor of veterinary medicine. "Therefore, the dogs who can use eye gaze to the owner efficiently would have more benefits from humans." Kikusui and his team found that the oxytocin release was experienced by both the human and canine subjects, and that as the levels increased in one, the other would have a corresponding increase as well.

This finding may help researchers solve the puzzle of how the ancestors of modern dogs co-evolved with humans to form the present partnership both of our species enjoy.

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