For many of us, that dog curled up on the living room rug isn't really a pet. He's a member of our family.
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We look out for his every need, even getting worried when there's a thunderstorm brewing, and you won't be home to comfort him. We take him to the doctor when he's sick, and ask for prayers on Twitter when he goes in for the big snip. We call him our furbaby or furkid. Other people call us crazy.
But what if, besides being a responsible and caring pet owner, there was actual scientific proof that the bond you share with your pup is similar to the one you would share with your actual, blood-related human baby?
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A team of researchers from Japan conducted a study that proves "humans may feel affection for their companion dogs similar to that felt toward human family members and that dog-associated visual stimuli, such as eye-gaze contact, from their dogs activate oxytocin systems."
You may have heard of oxytocin before. According to Psych Central, Oxytocin is "involved in social recognition and bonding, and may be involved in the formation of trust between people and generosity." Basically, it's a hormone secreted by our brain that's associated with all warm and fuzzy feelings like when a mother is gazing into the eyes of her infant, between mutually monogamous couples and now — between owner and dog.
The Japanese research team monitored the oxytocin levels of owners and their dogs before and after various 30 minute interactions via urine sample. During these interactions, the owners were separated into two groups: long gaze (meaning the owners maintained the gaze for a longer period of time) and short gaze. Their work, which was published by Science journal, found that "owners in the long-gaze group showed a significant increase in urinary oxytocin concentrations and the highest change ratio of oxytocin." So the next time someone calls you out for caring about your dog too much, let them in on the science behind your seemingly crazy compassion.
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When they compared the dog's results to those of wolves raised by human handlers, they were able to conclude that the oxytocin exchange between owners and their dogs is probably something acquired through domestication since there was no correlation between gaze and an increase in oxytocin in the wolves. In fact, wolves tend to avoid human eye contact as much as possible and even see it as a threat.
One of the researchers, Takefumi Kikusui, told Fox News that he strongly believes "there is a tight bond between the owner and dogs" and even went so far as to participate in the study himself. The results? "My oxytocin boosted up after the eye gaze, like 300 percent," said Kikusui.
Is your pup the baby in the family? Tell us all about it in the comment section!