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A new study by Japanese researchers is shedding some light on the way humans and dogs bond with each other – through gazing into one another’s eyes.
Animal behaviorist Takeumi Kikusui of Azabu University in Japan and his team found evidence in their new research study, published in the journal Science, that when humans and their dogs interact, especially by exchanging eye contact, levels of oxytocin – the feel-good, love hormone – increase in both human and canine brains.
The study is surprising to many who study and understand animal behavior, as eye contact, especially staring or gazing, is typically viewed as threatening. However, a gaze shared between a dog and their human owner produces quite different results than one between two dogs, or between humans and wolves.
Kikusui speculates that early domesticated dogs began unknowingly and unintentionally utilizing a mechanism meant for bonding a human parent with their child. Because those ancestor dogs benefited from the behavior, the trait was passed on.
The study helps to explain why dogs and humans more and more often share a parent and child type of relationship, with true feelings of love.
So, next time you make eye contact with your four-legged best friend, hold the gaze a little longer – it’ll only strengthen your special bond.