Love. For some people, it’s an elusive experience. For others, like dogs, it's forever in reach. But do dogs experience love in the same way that we do? Enter science to explain why dogs love humans.
Why dogs love humans
For many years, the world of science has been trying to understand and explain the nuances of relationships between humans and animals. The subject of love is often at the heart of their questioning. However, it is also a term primarily associated with the human species. Can and do animals also experience love?
Dr. Clive Wynne, founding director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University states in his latest book that love is an indispensable and necessary term to understand the link between dogs and humans.
Are dogs capable of love?
The relationship between a dog and a human is one of the closest and most important inter-species relationships ever observed. The ability for a dog to love leads us to believe their intelligence is a driving force behind such an ability. But studies have shown that a dog’s love does not stem from the same part of the brain that demonstrates intelligence.
In fact, Dr. Wynne even asserts that dogs aren’t as intelligent as they are often claimed to be. He makes such an assertion when considering that, for example, a pigeon has the ability to view objects in two dimensional form; dolphins understand the rules of grammar; and that bees dance to indicate to fellow bees where food is.
While we know that intelligence is multi-faceted, dogs are unable to act using such sophisticated forms of intelligence. Thus, it is not their intelligence that differentiates them from other animals, but instead it is their "hypersociability" and "extreme gregarious instinct"; their ability to "love".
Could it be a question of hormones or genes?
A recent discovery showed that the hormone responsible for trust and empathy in humans is also present in dogs. This hormone is known as oxytocin. When a dog and human make eye contact, the oxytocin level increases in the same way as when a mother or father looks at their baby.
Another avenue being explored belongs to genetics. In 2009, Bridgette vonHoldt, a geneticist at the University of California in Los Angeles, discovered that dogs have a mutation in the same gene responsible for Williams syndrome in humans. In humans, this genetic condition is characterised by development delays, learning difficulties, and interestingly, highly sociable personalities.
The need to bond
Following this discovery, it has been shown that dogs have both a desire and need to create bonds and warm relationships with their caregivers. As humans, we translate this as needing to give and receive love.
Behavioural experiments have been conducted to confirm this theory. For example, one of these experiments shows a dog facing its owner while a bowl of food sits to the side. In most cases, the dog would go to its owner first. MRI scans showed that most of the dogs were more stimulated by praise than by food.
There remains, of course, a disclaimer. Socialisation and the experience of love must be experienced from a young age. And not only with humans. For example, a puppy raised with other animals will show a form of attachment to them. This applies to providing a puppy with a caring and loving environment.
In may ways, these theories prove a well-known understanding that animals, and of course people, raised in turbulent or violent environments show a challenged response to love. As with children, a puppy will look to its caregiver for guidance on how to show and receive love.
So, while dogs give much and expect little in return, their ultimate goal is to seek praise through love. This is helped by the presence of your company. Therefore, science suggests that the right circumstances coupled with a dog's innate desire to seek praise explains why dogs love humans.