Does Your Dog Really Love You? Research May Surprise You

Woman about to kiss a dog

As a dog owner, you know love when you look into your pet’s eyes.

You’ve probably experienced one of those doggie pick-me-up moments. You know, when you’re feeling down and your pup comes over with concerned, soulful eyes and places his head in your lap?

Or the sheer joy of walking through the door to find a burst of pure enthusiasm there to greet you …

… But do dogs love their owners, really?

Is this really “love” you feel emanating out from your dog or is it something reflected back from yourself? Research says it’s actually both.

And it’s good for both of you.

What Research Says About Dog Love

The impact of a healthy dog-human relationship is an idea that science supports.

A few years ago, a study found that “mutual gazing” into each other’s eyes increases oxytocin levels in both. This creates a sort of love-loop similar to what mothers and their infants experience

According to the study, there were 30 sets of participants in the study and their pets. These were mostly friends and neighbors of the researchers. The owners and dogs interacted with each other for half an hour in a room. Researchers collected urine samples before and after the experiment.

The results were quite telling. Those who spent the most time gazing into each other’s eyes experienced a 130% increase in oxytocin levels for the dogs and a 300% increase for the owners. But there was no increase in those pairs that didn’t do much gazing.

Interestingly, some wolves and their owners were also included in the study. The wolves shared little eye contact with their owners, and had no oxytocin increases.

So what? Why is this significant?

Oxytocin is a hormone that’s produced in the hypothalamus. It’s also known as the “Love Hormone.”

And research shows it positively impacts social behaviors, including:

It also downregulates stress responses, including anxiety.

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Effects on oxytocin on both dogs and dog owners

Other Human-Dog Connection Health Benefits

But it goes beyond the gaze …

Beyond oxytocin, there are many other benefits of this connection to our pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, people spent $69.51 billion on their pets in 2017. We go to great lengths – and expense – to care for our pets in hopes of extending their lives and making them happy.

And our dogs, they give it right back to us. Because besides making us feel loved, they help us feel better.

In 2016, the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Cohen Research Group a survey. They found, of 2,000 pet owners, 74% reported mental health improvements from pet ownership. And 54% reported physical health improvements.

Another HABRI studyregarding social support networks, found that “companion animals can be a catalyst for several dimensions of human social relationships in neighborhood settings, ranging from incidental social interaction and getting to know people, through to formation of new friendships. For many pet owners, their pets also facilitated relationships from which they derived tangible forms of social support, both of a practical and emotionally supportive nature.”

In other words, that walk with your dog around the block may actually lead to a lasting friendship. And speaking of those walks … they’re not simply a time for your dog to relieve himself (though that’s important too). The walking is good for you too.

One study found that dog owners tend to be more active than those without dogs because, well, they walk more.

Yet another study even concluded that pet ownership may reduce cardiovascular disease risk. This was especially true of dog ownership.

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Do Dogs Love Their Owners?

The list really does go on regarding the benefits of owning a dog (or as in many cases, having a dog own us). What it really comes down to is letting pets help us when we need it.

So, do dogs love their owners? Research says yes. So, the next time your dog comes running up to you, ball in mouth, ready for some intense playtime, go for it. Especially when you’re in the midst of a very stressful moment. Put away the cell phone or whatever is on your mind. Take 15 minutes and play with all the zest for life your dog exudes daily.

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