Thousands of dogs and their owners have taken the Dognition Assessment: interactive games and expert analyses that give you an unprecedented perspective on how your dog sees the world. And Dognition's scientists and trainers have discovered some good news. "We have always known that our relationship with dogs is special," says Dr. Brian Hare, founder of Dognition and a Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University. "What we didn't know is how special this relationship is, and why."
If you want to start the day in a better mood, stare long and hard at the one who loves you most - your dog. Research from citizen science project Dognition and research groups around the world are finding the same thing - there is nothing better than a dog to stimulate oxytocin - a little molecule with a big heart.
Also known as the "love hormone," oxytocin is what makes you feel good when you are touched by a loved one, get a massage, or enjoy a good meal. Oxytocin has pain relieving properties and can also decrease stress and blood pressure.
We experience oxytocin in many of our social relationships, including bonding with our parents, children, or partners. What is surprising is that we also experience a change in this hormone when bonding with a completely different species.
Of the 12,359 dogs and owners who have played the Eye Contact game in Dognition, 43 percent have a "long gaze" or hold eye contact with their owners for 90 seconds or more.
Earlier this year, researchers from Azabu University in Japan, found that dogs who spent the longest time gazing into the eyes of their owner had a 130 percent rise in oxytocin, while the owners had a 300 percent increase.
In humans, the most well known example of eye contact and oxytocin is with mothers and their babies. Mothers stare at their babies, which triggers oxytocin release in the babies, which causes them to stare back at their mothers, which makes mothers want to stare more at their babies, and so on. This creates a feedback loop that enhances feelings of love and attachment when babies are too young to express themselves by talking, laughing, or even smiling.
"It is incredible that dogs have nuzzled into our emotional pathway like this," says Hare.
Science is only beginning to understand the mechanisms of this relationship, and the implications could lead to understanding why service dogs can be so effective helping people with everything from autism to post traumatic stress disorder. But for the rest of us that just need a little sunshine to start the day, try a meaningful gaze, or even a kiss with your best friend.