Do Dogs Really Love Us
So there she is lying at your feet gazing expectantly at your face. Yes I love you too you are thinking, but is she really feeling affection for you or is she just hungry.
Any dog owner can tell you that they respond to human affection. Several scientists such as Dr. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and the author of “What It’s Like to Be a Dog” have managed to train dogs to remain perfectly still while in a functional MRI. What Dr. Berns and others have found is that the canine pleasure centres respond at least as much, and in 20% of cases more to praise and affection as they do to food. So OK, dogs respond to affection, but do they actually have feelings of affection themselves.
Researchers long ago identified the hormone oxytocin as the mediating chemical in human bonding. When humans hug or gaze into each others eyes, they each experience increased levels of the hormone. A 2015 study in Japan found dogs and humans were engaging in cross-species gaze-mediated bonding using this same oxytocin system. That is to say both the dogs and humans experienced elevated levels of oxytocin when gazing at each other. As we learned in Science Sunday a few weeks ago about " puppy dog eyes", wolves will not engage humans with eye contact and so do not bond with humans the way dogs do.
In the field of genetic research studies looked at the phenomenon of hypersocialbility in humans, a malady know as Williams syndrome. UCLA geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt discovered in 2009: Dogs have a mutation in the same gene responsible for Williams syndrome in humans. Dogs, like humans with Williams syndrome show a desire to form close connections with those around them and the Williams syndrome gene mutation may be partially responsible.
Numerous studies have equated canine development to that of an approximately 2 year old child. So do infants experience affection? The capacity for emotions in humans develops throughout early development. In the chart below we see that since canines and humans develop at about the same rate up to about 2.5 years, love and affection is the last emotion to develop in dogs.
So do they really love us? What ever love is, our dogs at least appear to exhibit it so lets just take it at face value.