I first heard about the new studies regarding increased oxytocin release when dogs and their owners gaze at one another from Linda Tellington at a TTouch class. Oxytocin has been called the cuddle hormone, the hug hormone, the bonding hormone, and the trust hormone, as it is released in the process of a mother bonding with her child. Work by Dr Paul Zak for a BBC documentary analyzed swabs of saliva in dogs and cats after ten minutes of playing time with their owners, and showed a 57.2% increase in oxytocin levels in dogs and a 12% increase in cats. Does this mean cats don’t love their owners as much? Or maybe cat owners, or cats, don’t gaze as much or in the same ways that dogs and dog owners do. A previous study by Takefumi Kikusui from Asabu University in Japan showed the increased oxytocin levels with gazing, and found that gaze in particular over touching, resulted in the higher levels of this trust hormone. Furthermore, this study found that the more time spent gazing at one another, the more the hormone level increased in the dog, that increase was reflected back with an increased oxytocin level in the human, in a circular generator where both human and dog were awash in oxytocin. Dog behavior people may tell us that a direct stare at a dog is a signal of aggression, but it seems that dogs have learned to bond with us with a soft gaze. With wolves, the dog’s wild ancestor, there was no increase in oxytocin levels with gaze.
But did we need these studies to know this? Every caretaker of a dog, cat, horse, or rabbit already knows that animals hug us with their eyes.