The Love Drug and Man’s Best Friend
Oxytocin, the love drug, seems to be a fitting topic, not only with Valentine's Day just around the corner, but in conjunction with our last blog post, The Evolution of Man's Best Friend. Oxytocin is a hormone released when any nurturing contact is made between mammals. Not only is this a feel good hormone but scientists believe that oxytocin has helped in the evolution of the wolf, or wild dog, into our beloved domesticated animals. Oxytocin, nicknamed the love drug, has increased in levels over the evolution of the dog. This hormone is released whenever nurturing contact is made between you and your dog. The hormone sends a message of comfort and happiness which stimulates the desire to repeat the behavior to stimulate more of the hormonal release. Therefore, in the early stages of domesticating wild dogs, one can see the link between the love drug and man’s best friend
While other mammals produce the same hormonal release of oxytocin it seems to be most prevalent in humans and dogs. The roles of oxytocin are linked to social behaviors such as trust, recognition, and bonding. Thought to be the hormone responsible first and foremost in the bonding of mother and infant...or pup, oxytocin is responsible for the desire to touch or be coddled. A baby or pup instinctively seeks comfort and trust as well as hunger or nursing. If oxytocin levels are weak it could affect the attachment necessary to bond with the parent. This hormonal release of oxytocin is unique to the survival and bonding of a maternal mammal. The stimulation through touch or eye contact releases the hormone and produces the effect of trust, recognition, happiness, and safety. Through evolution the hormonal release of oxytocin has increased in domestic dogs. This explains why a dog is more willing to jump up and great you as opposed to a wild dog who’s instincts are to keep at a distance or reasoned to the fight or flight hormone. Not only are oxytocin levels a biological necessity in the survival of a puppies life cycle, it’s been an evolutionary factor in the boding humans have made with wild dogs. The love drug and man’s best friend can be seen as a biological link in evolution.
As with most characteristics and genetics the levels of oxytocin vary in different breeds but is present in all dogs. This explains why some dogs seek more attention than others. They may crave the hormone just as much as they crave their favorite treats. The release of the hormone stimulates a comforting response so seeking that euphoric high can become somewhat addictive. One can see how this hormonal release helped to build a trusting bond between the wolf into a domestic dog. Without the release of oxytocin the fight or flight hormone probably would have dominated the wild dogs characteristics making it harder to create Mans Best Friend. This hormone release is generally associated with actual contact, but can also be stimulated with facial expressions and eye contact. Think of the excitement your dog has when you come home after a long day. A simple greeting can release the hormone using positive body language, even just a simple smile, then add some physical contact, like a pat on the head and a hug and you just dosed up your dog on a natural happy high.
Dogs and humans both crave the love drug as it’s responsible for a natural euphoric high. Craving this natural high that is easily stimulated through touch, releases the hormone known as oxytocin. The love drug and man’s best friend, could be one of the factors that helped us create a bond like no other among two species. So while chocolate may stimulate a euphoric release for you this Valentine’s Day, dose up your dog with some oxytocin and share the love with some physical attention.