Something Surprising Happens in Your Brain When You Look at Your Dog

Something Surprising Happens in Your Brain When You Look at Your Dog
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

New research explains why we love our dogs so much: They've taken over our brains.

Researchers at Azabu University in Japan discovered that as dogs gaze into their human owners' eyes, the hormone oxytocin, the "love hormone" which strengthens emotional bonds and links to maternal bonding, releases in both the dogs and the people.

It's also what our brains release when we orgasm, leading to a stronger feeling of connection after sex.

"Dogs successfully coexist with humans because they have adapted the bonding mechanism [used in] relations with humans," says author Miho Nagasawa in a video statement, according to Smithsonian  magazine. "On the other hand, humans also likely went through some sort of evolution that allowed them to bond with another species."

Source: Mic/YouTube

Just like how humans bond the more we look into another human's eyes, owners and dogs become closer when they share the same long gaze. Mutually gazing increases these oxytocin levels.

The researchers even discovered if they gave a dog boosted oxytocin levels with a nasal spray, the female dogs will try to gaze into its owner's eyes longer and increase the owner's levels that way, essentially transferring that love hormone to get on the same level.

"There's a possibility that dogs cleverly and unknowingly utilize a natural system meant for bonding a parent with his or her child," Takefumi Kikusui, another Azabu University researcher on the study, told the Washington Post. "On the other hand, humans are also unique in using eye gaze with other species, namely dogs, which suggests that both humans and dogs co-evolved during this process and both of them can obtain the advantages of this bonding."

Source: Mic/YouTube


With dogs, the more you gaze, the stronger the bond, which probably explains why some people love their dogs more than they love people. "In a way, domesticated dogs could hijack our social circuits, and we can hijack their social circuits," Steve Chang, an assistant professor of psychology and neurobiology at Yale (not a study participant), told the New York Times.

But Nagasawa and his team found this won't necessarily work with all canines, specifically wolves, since they perceive eye contact as a threat, not a mental hug.

So if you see a wolf, don't try to gaze into its eyes and become best friends — it may not go well. On the other hand, that feeling you get when you stare into the eyes of man's best friend isn't coming out of nowhere: It's simple science. Plus, it really gives weight to the power of puppy dog eyes.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Max Plenke

Max Plenke is a staff writer at Mic, where he covers breaking news, climate science, health and the future. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ and Wallpaper. Send story tips to max@mic.com.

MORE FROM

New White House communications director Scaramucci says press briefings should be on-camera

If the new White House communications director gets his way, the press briefings could soon be recorded once again.

At least 8 dead, 30 injured in locked tractor trailer outside Walmart in Texas

Authorities told press that the deaths were caused by "a human trafficking crime."

Amid new revelations, here’s what we’ve learned about the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr.

The picture of Natalia Veselnitskaya is coming into clearer focus.

Republican Senator urges whoever leaked Russia/Sessions phone calls to release whole conversation

Sen. Chuck Grassley wants the person who leaked intelligence about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to come forward with more information.

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort now to testify before Senate committee behind closed doors

Trump Jr. and Manafort have avoided a subpoena and will testify behind closed doors — for now.

Hope Hicks reportedly tried to rein Trump in during explosive ‘Times’ interview. It didn’t work.

The low-profile Trump Whisperer is one of the few in the president's orbit to enjoy job security.

New White House communications director Scaramucci says press briefings should be on-camera

If the new White House communications director gets his way, the press briefings could soon be recorded once again.

At least 8 dead, 30 injured in locked tractor trailer outside Walmart in Texas

Authorities told press that the deaths were caused by "a human trafficking crime."

Amid new revelations, here’s what we’ve learned about the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr.

The picture of Natalia Veselnitskaya is coming into clearer focus.

Republican Senator urges whoever leaked Russia/Sessions phone calls to release whole conversation

Sen. Chuck Grassley wants the person who leaked intelligence about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to come forward with more information.

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort now to testify before Senate committee behind closed doors

Trump Jr. and Manafort have avoided a subpoena and will testify behind closed doors — for now.

Hope Hicks reportedly tried to rein Trump in during explosive ‘Times’ interview. It didn’t work.

The low-profile Trump Whisperer is one of the few in the president's orbit to enjoy job security.