The Science Behind Puppy Eyes: This Hormone Makes Us Treat Dogs Like We Would Babies (And We're Helpless To It)

If you're convinced your dog has a powerful hold over you, then this will certainly explain why.

Staring into a dog's eyes can increase oxytocin levels, making owners more affectionate and devoted to their pet.

Researchers revealed that puppy dog eyes have a similar affect emotionally to that of a mother and her children, which they believe might be the reason why human-dog bonds are so strong.

Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the brain, which is secreted by the pituitary gland. It is usually released to regulate two female reproductive functions: childbirth and breast-feeding.

But it can also affect specific areas of the brain that are involved in emotional, cognitive and social behaviours.

The study, conducted by researchers from three different Japanese Universities - Azabu, Jichi and Tokyo, measured the relationship between the hormone and the effects on the relationship between pets and their owners.

The first study involved measuring the oxytocin levels of 28 dogs and their humans, before monitoring their interaction for 30 minutes.

The researchers then screened their oxytocin levels and found they'd increased in the owners and pets who had gazed at one another.

For the second experiment, the researchers sprayed saline or oxytocin in the noses of 54 dogs.

In this instance, female dogs treated with oxytocin spent more time gazing at their owners, which after 30 minutes boosted the levels of their owners' oxytocin.

"Gazing behaviour from dogs increased urinary oxytocin concentrations in owners, which consequently facilitated owners’ affiliation and increased oxytocin concentration in dogs," wrote the authors of the study.

They found that dogs use eye contact as a communication tool so that they can alert their owners to their particular needs. They believe this behavioural technique has evolved over time, as dogs have learnt more and more about the way humans interact.

"Owner-dog bonding is comparable to parent-infant bonding," Takefumi Kikusui from Azabu University in Japan told Today.

"And this is surprising to us… because there is not a reproductive relationship between humans and dogs."

The study was published in the journal Science.

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