SAN DIEGO, May 19, 2015 — With over 70 million family dogs in the United States, it is clear that Americans love dogs.
Whose heart doesn’t melt while holding a puppy or experiencing the pure joy of being greeted by an enthusiastic tail-wagging family dog?
It is possible that the nature of dogs facilitated their positive relationship with humans due to their natural proclivities for living in packs, communicating vocally and scavenging for food.
A relationship first developed between early man and dog as dogs’ ability for herding and hunting were identified as valuable.
As this relationship continued to evolve, it developed into one that included companionship.
The protective, loyal nature of the dog also provided humans with a badly needed form of protection and early warning about the proximity of unwanted predators.
Dogs were subsequently rewarded with shelter, food and affection–indicative of a symbiotic relationship.
Though the exact date of dog domestication is not known, some scientists believe it was approximately 30,000 years ago.
Today dog owners are gratified and awestruck by their innate ability to love their dog, while also experiencing an ever-growing interdependence.
Many dog owners feel that their dog is an important member of their entire family unit, oftentimes ascribing human characteristics to their beloved companion.
“It’s really cool that there’s actually some science to back this up now,” says Evan MacLean, an evolutionary anthropologist and co-director of Duke’s Canine Cognition Center.
MacLean further states that breeding dogs for obedience over thousands of years may have caused alterations in their brains, possibly explaining their ability to understand human gestures, behaviors, body language and verbal expressions.
A Japanese research team led by Takefumi Kikusui, at Azab University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, writes in the article “Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds”: “Human-like modes of communication, including mutual gaze, in dogs may have been acquired during domestication with humans. We show that gazing behavior from dogs, but not wolves, increased urinary oxytocin concentrations in owners, which consequently facilitated owner’s affiliation and increased oxytocin concentration in dogs…These findings support the existence of an interspecies oxytocin-mediated positive loop facilitated and modulated by gazing, which may have supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding…”
Mutual gazing between dog and human improves the social communication and emotional bonding between them, which is akin to the impact that gazing can have between mother and child, friends, lovers and family members.
“Dogs are the only other domestic species (other than humans) that exhibit the left glance phenomenon…movement of the eyes toward the right aspect of a person’s face…(which) is more expressive in non-verbal communication than the left side,” according to Adam Malcolm, veterinarian at Big Hallow Companion Animal Hospital, Peoria, Ill.
Studying this unique bond between humans and dogs, two distinctly separate animal species, has potential future benefits that extend beyond the scope of understanding their relationship.
Researchers who study oxytocin, a hormone naturally produced in the hypothalamus gland, are encouraged by these studies and the potential implications for understanding human socialization and applications in health care.
Additional study of the release of human or canine oxytocin could also aid in a deeper understanding of the benefits of therapy dogs and canine companions for those stricken with mental illness or physical disability.
“I’m perfectly happy saying that we can love dogs, and they can love us back…and oxytocin is probably a piece of how that happens,” says Duke researcher MacLean.
There is no denying the special, unique bond that exists between humans and dogs.
This relationship adds significantly to the joie de vivre experienced by the millions of Americans who are fortunate enough to enjoy it, benefiting from the love and loyalty unconditionally given by their best-friend.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!
Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, is a health care provider of over 30 years. As a featured “Communities Digital News” columnist, LifeCycles with Laurie Edwards-Tate emphasizes healthy aging and maintaining independence, while delighting and informing its readers. Laurie is an educator and a recognized expert in home and community-based, long-term care services.
In addition to writing for “Communities Digital News,” Laurie is the president and CEO of her firm, At Your Home Familycare, which serves persons of all ages who are disabled and infirm with a variety of non-medical, in-home care and concierge services.
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