You knew it all the time. It just took science a while to catch up. Human/animal Relationship Science (there really is such a thing!) proves that you have not been hallucinating—your dog really does love you.
This, of course begs the question “What is love?”, but that question would cross over into a maelstrom of philosophy and theology that lies well outside this writer’s comfort zone.
The Love Hormone
From a scientific point of view, love is a strong feeling that leads to a state of attachment and bonding between oneself and another. Using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) re- searchers have watched what’s going on inside our brains when we are bonding. What did they find? Oxytocin, the “love hormone.”
“Studies across multiple attachments throughout life are presented and demonstrate that the extended oxytocin (OT) system provides the neurohormonal substrate for parental, romantic, and filial attachment in humans.”
No Oxytocin, No Babies?
Given the right stimulus, the neurotransmitter Oxytocin, nicknamed the Love Hormone, is released into the part of the brain that controls our feelings and we are flooded with a feeling of well-being. Oxytocin plays a significant role in social bonding, sexual reproduction, childbirth, and mother-child bonding. Without oxytocin, sex would not feel so good and we probably wouldn’t even bother and there would be no babies and the human race would disappear and even if there were babies they might all be abandoned because mothers might not bond with them.
In fact, babies who get large doses of oxytocin because of much maternal hugging and caressing experience more satisfying and secure relationships in their adulthood: “Long-term human studies following individuals from infancy to adult- hood demonstrated that sensitive care-giving in infancy predicted better adult adaptation and more secure romantic relationships.”
As Good As Drugs, Only Better
Oxytocin is a powerful drug manufactured in the hypothalamus and released through the pituitary gland. As a natural drug, it is even being tested to “reverse the corrosive effects of long-term drugs abuse on social behavior and to perhaps inoculate against future vulnerability to addictive disorders”. Those goods of good feeling we get from loving one another can help us avoid becoming addicted to destructive drugs like heroin and cocaine!
Does that mean that our love for our pets can help prevent drug abuse? In a word, yes.
Call It Love
Spanning 40 years of careful experimentation, the empirical work of psychiatrist Myron Arms Hofer demonstrated the positive effects of maternal touch, odor, and body movements of domesticated and wild mammalian mothers in the psyche of their offspring.
Other researchers like Zhang and Meaney established that the release of oxytocin released during licking and grooming was the active agent. In other words, the same thing is going on inside your brain and your dog’s brain. You snuggle, hug, pet, coo, and look lovingly into each others eyes. Oxytocin is released. You both feel great. Let’s call it what it is: love.
“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other” (Rainer Maria Rilke).