You love your dog but does your dog love you?


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Man's best friend: also known as Fluffy, Fido, or for me, Jake and Teddy ... you love your dog, but does your dog love you back?

In "Does Your Dog Love You Back?" by Jason G. Goldman, a post I found on scientificamerican.com, Goldman summarized a study done by Swedish scientists trying to find the answer. The prediction was that dogs do love us back, and that the stronger the relationship is perceived as being by the owner, the more strongly bonded the dog also is to its owner.

The Swedish study observed 20 participants recruited by ads. The participants included 16 women and 4 men, between the ages of 17-69, and 8 female and 12 male dogs between the ages 2-8 who had been living with their owners for at least six months. The scientists asked the owners to complete the Monash Dog Owner Relationship Scale (MDORS), which "is a multi-dimensional questionnaire developed to specifically investigate the dog-owner relationship from the owner's point of view". Both dogs and owners participated in a version of the Strange Situation Procedure, which tests the attachment of the dog and owner (similar to the attachment of a toddler and a parent). The dogs' body language was recorded. Variables in the dogs' body language included "changes in exploration, passive behaviour, independent play, social play, physical contact and tail wagging," all clues to a dog's emotional interest/attachment. Read the full report here.

The study showed that dogs whose owners reported a lot of interaction with their dog, when in a room with their owner purposely ignoring them, were more likely to initiate physical contact/less likely to play independently. In the end, there was no correlation found between how long the dog and owner new each other, but instead a correlation in the type of play and the described strength of the relationship between dog and owner. This is why it is important to make a note of the kind of relationship owners had with their dogs because throughout the dog's life, it may have been positively reinforced for close interaction. Even though it may be evidence of a clear relationship between dog and dog owner, the study in no way proves that the dog loves the owner just as much as they love it.

However, there are other elements that favor the prediction dogs love humans just as much as they love their dogs - genetic and neurological reasons. Dogs seem to have a symbiotic and social relationship with us, hypothesized to have stemmed from our hunting relationship with them (and before them, wolves) which is why they have herding and gathering tendencies. Dogs did not have to hunt once humans started taking them in as companions. They grew to depend on humans and enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship - the dog gets taken care of; the humans have a companion and hunting/herding help.

This quality of domestication continues in dogs genetically, as proven by a study done comparing wolf pups and dog pups human interactions after they were raised by humans since birth. Dog puppies, when put in a situation where they had to make eye contact/interact with humans to get what they want, were more likely to look to the humans for help and use them as tools than the wolf puppies, who never figured out the connection between the human and the reward.

That study supports that dogs genetically are more inclined to interact with humans. In "Biological Evidence that Dog's Are A Man's Best Friend," Goldman again summarizes studies but this time summarizes ones that support the theory that there is a biological mechanism causing the mutual attachment between a dogs and humans. Dogs "tend to look longer at a picture of their owner when it is paired with a recording of their owner's voice than with a stranger's voice." Dog's also have been found to "exhibit separation anxiety" when apart from owners as a stress response in their endocrine system is activated. Another study measuring a dog's heart rate and heart rate variability compared to when it sees its owner vs. other strangers. It found that not only can dogs distinguish who their owners are when they see them, they have an emotional response to seeing them evident by autonomic arousal. Dog's heart rate and heart rate variability decreased as they got used to the strangers, but increased as soon as they saw their owner.  Read more here.

In another study Goldman covered, 55 dog owners were asked about the strength of relationship they had with their dogs. The experimental group had to pee in a cup, played with their dogs for a half hour, and then peed again, while the control group peed before and after ignoring their dog. The experiment results showed that dog owners who have strong relationships with their dogs have higher levels of oxytocin in their urine. Oxytocin is "the most important neurotransmitter that is responsible for social bonding

Granted, there are weaknesses in these studies as many of them do not account for variability in different types of breeds - for instance, is a breed of dog that is more similar to a wolf than another demonstrate less attachment? But, many of the studies have a big enough group of participants that dog breed varies a lot, so the results still have value.

In conclusion, there is evidence that suggests biological mechanisms which support the possibility of owners and their dogs having a mutual connection. To me, I don't know if I need science to prove that my dog loves me back - I know we have a connection.

 

 jake.jpgteddy2.jpg

3 Comments

Haha this article is very interesting! I too have a dog and have always wondered if he loved me back... he only seems to love me when I have food to give him so i'm quite skeptical about this theory. Although, many people claim to have special relationships with their pets, especially dogs I hope it is true! Perhaps we they don't love us they just love what we do for them.. Check out this article! http://moderndogmagazine.com/articles/can-dogs-love-true-story/132

Great article, I really hope my dog Bella loves me as much as I love her. I always had a very soft spot for animals, and I hate seeing them given a life of neglect and mistreatment. Dogs should be able to experience the same things that humans do, such as happiness and love. A dog is helpless and can't reason like humans can, so they rely on humans to protect them and care for them. A domesticated dog needs to be let outside to urinate, needs to have someone fill its bowl to eat and drink, and needs to be cared for. Imagine living a life of isolation with no one to care for you after being taken away from your mother. Us dog owners need to act as the dog's parents and love it to the very end.

Great article, I really hope my dog Bella loves me as much as I love her. I always had a very soft spot for animals, and I hate seeing them given a life of neglect and mistreatment. Dogs should be able to experience the same things that humans do, such as happiness and love. A dog is helpless and can't reason like humans can, so they rely on humans to protect them and care for them. A domesticated dog needs to be let outside to urinate, needs to have someone fill its bowl to eat and drink, and needs to be cared for. Imagine living a life of isolation with no one to care for you after being taken away from your mother. Us dog owners need to act as the dog's parents and love it to the very end.

http://responsibledog.net/human_dog_bond.html

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