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23 Dogs – Creating Puppy Love With Oxytocin

standing on back
St. Weiler standing on back

23? That’s the number of dogs I have shared my life with.

This is an excerpt from my book, “Everywhere I Turn There’s A Wet Nose,” a title that should make perfect sense to any dog lover who has learned about morning from a new puppy’s cold nose pushed under the covers.

Some of the book is about more than that long score of dogs I’ve lived with and other chapters are pure science.

The book is a mix of autobiography and hard science. But don’t run away just yet, this is one of the animal science chapters focusing mostly on puppy love.

But here are some quick facts about human’s best friends.

>Dogs can smell cancer. They can also smell COVID.

>Another puppy is born every second somewhere in the world. Sadly, regrettably, and depressingly for those of us who are “dog people,” most won’t find decent homes or living conditions. For a cow, it doesn’t matter but humans have turned dogs into companions which are desperately unhappy if not in close association with either a human or a pack of dogs.

>If you yawn and your dog sees it (YOUR dog sees almost everything you do at least for the first year or two) your dog is likely to also yawn. Yawning is a sign of bonding. It happens with humans too but if you have a new dog you will notice that you are under close observation at almost all times.

>Dogs come in a more extreme range of shapes and sizes than ANY other mammal that can interbreed.

> If you have a companion dog you will live longer, you will be less likely to have a heart attack, and more likely to survive one if you do have one.

>The part of the brain that deals with smell is 40 times larger in canines than in humans. Not 40x larger in proportion to their very different sizes, but literally 40 times larger.

>Wolves aren’t dogs although they share DNA close enough that they can interbreed, but, for example, wolves don’t bark, they sometimes cough but mostly they howl. That raises the question of whether dogs bark for our benefit. There are at least 6 bark emotions that most dog owners can identify.

>At approximately 9 weeks of age, a puppy goes through what is referred to as the “scare” stage which can determine their temperament for the rest of their lives (don’t scare a puppy in that age range). At about 9 weeks of age puppies begin to prefer people to other dogs.

>Is your dog right pawed? As with humans, dogs come in left dominant, right dominant, and ambidextrous. You can see this yourself in the way a dog paws at something such as your leg or a toy, how they step off in a run or walk from standing still, and other ways, right-pawed and left-pawed are obvious. What isn’t so obvious is that the side of the brain that controls the opposite side of the body matters in temperament. These days the first test for a potential service dog is whether they are right-pawed or left-pawed.

>Right pawed (left brain) dogs make better service dogs because they are easier to train, less independent, and less aggressive.

>Puppies are all born premature, blind, and deaf for the first and second weeks respectively. They are unable to control their body temp. Compare this with a newborn lamb which is up and staggering around within 10 minutes of birth.

(I posted a video showing this at https://youtu.be/OsXgzcJl7P8?t=7m as part of the documentary tied to my book “Sheep in the Rafters, the story of Highland Ranch Sanctuary” http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00SLMJHUI.)

Chapter 1 Why People Love Puppies (and vice versa!)

Puppy Love is what adults call the first and sometimes powerful, even overwhelming relationship triggered by that surge of hormones experienced by teens as they discover that the other sex isn’t just too gross, too full of cooties, and too dumb to hang around with.

The term most probably came from what people feel about real puppies, but did you ever stop to wonder just why nearly everyone is fascinated and entranced by those cute little fuzz balls stumbling over themselves to be closest to whatever human happens upon them?

Well, there actually is a scientific answer and it is yet another of the many links between humans and canines which has led to us keeping them in our homes for the past 30,000 or so years – essentially since the dawn of real civilization.

Science has recently proven exactly how puppies bond with humans, how humans bond with puppies, and, probably not coincidentally, the science behind the bond is also the reason mothers and fathers fall in love with those squirming, crying, endlessly demanding tiny humans called babies.

It turns out that the way silly people have always said their dogs are just like their babies and they really love them isn’t silly at all but derives from a simple scientific fact, a specific chemical (hormone) is released in humans when they see a puppy.

Some people, perhaps most dog owners who have house dogs I exclude those with outdoor dogs, some of whom care little for them. In fact, it is now illegal in some states to keep dogs chained in the yard. That doesn’t apply to farm dogs who live with the flocks they protect.

(In Pennsylvania an outdoor dog is now protected after one notorious case. It used to be common to see a dog chained outdoors with minimal shelter but now it is illegal. Any dog kept outside must be restrained in a non-injurious way (no choke chain), can’t be left outdoors for more than 9 out of 24 hours unattended, and more. Any violation is now a criminal act.)

>People feel real love for their companion dogs and, perhaps even more surprisingly, vice versa – that is, puppies and dogs also feel what most people would describe as love for their humans.

Science (in this instance the actual magazine Science carried the peer-reviewed study) has demonstrated that the loving look a puppy gives you is actually true love in the very human sense that it releases the chemical oxytocin in the human – that is the same chemical that a mother feels coursing through her and causes her to bond to a newborn baby.

Baby, Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Oxytocin is also found in bitches who have just whelped and it is presumed that it is there to help the new mother bond with her pups.

In the study researchers took blood samples from both humans and puppies immediately before and after the people interacted with dogs. They found that when a human holds up a puppy and stares into its eyes, the puppy often stares right back and the same oxytocin hormone is released in the puppy as in the human, triggering the formation of a two-way bond very much like that between humans and their children or human lovers.

By the way, this discovery runs absolutely contrary to the silly notion you read on some websites, books, or articles which warn that you should never stare at a dog because the canine will see it as a sign of aggression – that is now scientifically proven to be nonsense.

Staring down a strange dog may or may not be a good idea, but with your own puppy or adult dog, it is a way of bonding.

My adult St. Weilers still come to me at least once a day and sit waiting for a hand on their neck and what probably looks to others like a staring contest as we look into each other’s eyes for about a minute until they are satisfied and walk off.

St. Weiler puppy 9 weeks

(St. Weilers are one of the designer breeds combining two pedigree breeds. In this case Saint Bernard and Rottweiler. This is becoming a popular combination and they are often described as the most affectionate dogs people have ever had. That doesn’t apply to strangers at the dog’s car or home.)

Staring at many wild animals, especially predators, IS a sign of aggression and it is definitely something you should never do with a wolf which will always interpret eye contact as a threat – although with North American wolves that will almost always trigger a strong flight response and cause them to run away.

Reaction to eye contact is just one of the ways dogs differ from their lupine ancestors, but more about that in the chapter about domestication – scientists now believe dogs were developed very quickly from wolves, not in thousands of years, but in just a few dog generations, starting with those wolves who were less afraid of humans than of starving so they followed nomadic human camps eating the scraps.

Some details about oxytocin.

The 2015 report in Brain & Behavior, Plants & Animals, Doggy Science, Animal World carried the story of how a Japanese researcher proved this positive feedback loop between dogs and their people.

An expert on canine cognition Brian Hare at Duke University in Durham, N.C. said, “It’s an incredible finding that suggests that dogs have hijacked the human bonding system.” Hare (the scientist, not Oryctolagus cuniculus [European rabbit]), was not involved in the oxytocin study. He went on to say the discovery might help explain why service dogs are so helpful, especially for people with autism and PTSD. The discovery potentially has important ramifications.

Dog lover and behaviorist Takefumi Kikusui at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan got 30 friends to participate in the laboratory test with their own pets. They also included some people who were raising wolves as pets (not legal in PA and most U.S. States).

In 30-minute sessions, the owners played with their dogs and gazed into each other’s eyes (dog and owner, not owners) often for more than a minute, but some for only seconds.

Although treated as pets, the wolves avoided eye contact.

Urine samples were taken both before and after the sessions from both the owners and the dogs!

Tests showed that those pairs that spent the most time sharing mutual gazes had more than double the amount of oxytocin in their systems after the time spent together, this was true for humans, dogs, and bitches.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/oxytocin-the-love-hormone

The 130% increase occurred in both dogs and bitches, but in male and female dog “owners” the oxytocin levels went up by 300%!

There was no change in levels for those wolf owners or those who didn’t share gazes with their pet dogs …

And 10 more chapters, John A. McCormick, are available on Amazon.

If you found this interesting please share it on Twitter and other social media.

(If you found it pedantic, annoying, boring, and a waste of time, please tell people on social media since they will probably want to check it out!)

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/John-A.-McCormick/e/B00287RNFS

“Everywhere I Turn There’s A Wet Nose, the love for and science of dogs.”

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078LYCL82

(c) Groundhog Press Inc.

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