Dog's gaze at its owner increases owner's urinary oxytocin during social interaction

Horm Behav. 2009 Mar;55(3):434-41. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.12.002. Epub 2008 Dec 14.

Abstract

Oxytocin (OT) has been shown to play an important role in social bonding in animals. However, it is unclear whether OT is related to inter-species social bonding. In this study, to examine the possibility that urinary OT concentrations of owners were increased by their "dog's gaze", perhaps representing social attachment to their owners, we measured urinary OT concentrations of owners before and after interaction with their dogs. Dog owners interacted with their dogs as usual for 30 min (interaction experiment) or were instructed not to look at their dogs directly (control experiment). We observed the behaviors of owners and their dogs during the experiments, and measured OT concentrations by radioimmunoassay in urine samples from the owners collected just before and 20 min after interaction with their dogs. Using a cluster analysis, owners could be divided into two groups: one received a longer duration of gaze from their dogs and reported a higher degree of relationship with their dogs (LG); the other received a shorter duration of gaze and reported a lower degree of relationship (SG). Urinary OT was higher in LG than SG after usual interaction with their dogs, but not in the control experiment. In the interaction experiment, a high correlation was found in LG between the frequency of behavioral exchanges initiated by the dog's gaze and the increase in urinary OT. We conclude that interactions with dogs, especially those initiated by the dog's gaze, can increase the urinary OT concentrations of their owners as a manifestation of attachment behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Bonding, Human-Pet*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Object Attachment
  • Oxytocin / urine*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Substances

  • Oxytocin