A new study on the brain chemistry of canines is confirming what pet-owners have long suspected -- dogs really are capable of loving us, and the warm, fuzzy feeling is probably mutual.
Love is a complex and difficult to define emotion, but from a biological standpoint researchers have long known that feelings of closeness and intimacy are related to the release oxytocin, known as the "neurochemical of love".
Measuring an increase in oxytocin in the bloodstream can give scientists sense of how strong a feeling love an interaction elicits. For example, a shaking hands with a stranger might raise oxytocin levels 5 to 10 percent, or a slight sense of closeness. Receiving a hug from ones child, on the other hand, could boost that up to 100 percent.
Researcher Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University recently set out to discover how oxytocin is triggered among non-humans -- in other words, to find out if they might have loving feelings, too, for creatures unlike themselves.
In picking his test subjects, Zak couldn't have found a more adorable pair. He travelled to an animal refuge in Arkansas where a domestic mixed-breed terrier and a goat had apparently become friends, frequently engaging in play. They seemed to enjoy one another's company, but Zak intended to find out just how strong their feeling might be.