How often do you pet your dog? Gaze into its loving eyes? Smile at it? Hopefully, very often, because the more you do it, the more your dog will love you — and new research helps us to understand why.
Oxytocin has long been referred to as “the love hormone” and the “cuddle hormone,” because we (and our pets) release it when we hug, touch, or look lovingly into someone’s eyes. This increases our attachment to that person (or animal.)
But researchers already knew this. What they didn’t know was that more oxytocin also makes dogs prefer smiling faces over threatening ones — kind of like we do.
This may not sound like much in the human kingdom, but among animals — who have a better chance of survival if they’re attuned to threatening cues — it’s kind of a big deal.
The new study was led by Prof. Outi Vainio, from the University of Helsinki in Finland, and it was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
The findings seem to reinforce a virtuous circle of affection between dogs and humans: the nicer you are to your dog, the more of the love hormone they will secrete. In turn, this will make them love you even more — so much so that they might even ignore danger for your sake.
In case you’re wondering how researchers could tell what a dog feels, the answer is pretty specific: by measuring the size of their pupils.