Oxytocin linked to dog-human bonding

Oxytocin’s role in human bonding is well-known – so well-known that the first hormone ever to be sequenced is now the go-to science jewellery gift for geeks everywhere. Its role in childbirth and mother-child bonding was first elucidated at the dawn of the 20th century, and since then its profile in popular culture has grown and grown. Labelled “the hugging hormone” as, in humans, its levels rise in response to physical contact, oxytocin has been linked to greater empathy, generosity and even orgasms.

Recent findings from the Canine Mind research project at the University of Helsinki have expanded the molecule’s sphere of influence: it reigns not only over mankind, but over our best friends, too. Oxytocin could be key in fostering happy human-dog relations: dogs which had received oxytocin paid significantly more attention to positive human facial expressions, and fixated less on the the eyes of angry faces.

Not only were the dogs’ attentions affected, but analysis of their pupil diameters during the experiment indicated that oxytocin may also modulate their emotional response. In the control group, pupil sizes increased when viewing angry faces. Oxytocin treatment didn’t just eliminate, but reversed, this effect.

“Both effects promote dog-human communication and the development of affectionate relations,” says Professor Vainio. Whilst dogs would typically focus most on threatening stimuli, it seems that thanks to our oxytocin, our friendly faces grab their attention instead.