The Role of Oxytocin in the Dog-Owner Relationship

Animals (Basel). 2019 Oct 12;9(10):792. doi: 10.3390/ani9100792.


Oxytocin (OT) is involved in multiple social bonds, from attachment between parents and offspring to "friendships". Dogs are an interesting species in which to investigate the link between the oxytocinergic system and social bonds since they establish preferential bonds with their own species but also with humans. Studies have shown that the oxytocinergic system may be involved in the regulation of such inter-specific relationships, with both dogs and their owners showing an increase in OT levels following socio-positive interactions. However, no direct comparison has been made in dogs' OT reactivity following a social interaction with the owner vs. a familiar (but not bonded) person, so it is unclear whether relationship type mediates OT release during socio-positive interactions or whether the interaction per se is sufficient. Here we investigated OT reactivity in both dogs and owners, following a socio-positive interaction with each other or a familiar partner. Results showed neither the familiarity with the partner, nor the type of interaction affected OT reactivity (as measured in urine) in either dogs or owners. Given the recent mixed results on the role of oxytocin in dog-human interactions, we suggest there is a need for greater standardization of methodologies, an assessment of overall results taking into account 'publication bias' issues, and further studies investigating the role of relationship quality and interaction type on OT release.

Keywords: attachment; dog; human-animal relationship; oxytocin; social bond.