Us dog owners have long known that the love for our pooches is fully reciprocated. We can feel it when we come home from a long trip and we’re smothered in slobbery kisses, or when they snuggle up beside us when we’re watching a movie.
And now, for the first time, we have scientific evidence proving that yes, our pups really do love us back.
A new study published in Science journal found that the levels of oxytocin—the hormone associated with love and protection—increases when a pup looks into its owner’s eyes. (Cue universal “awwww” from all dog lovers.)
Additionally, the study found that the levels also increased in humans—but we already knew that.
For the experiment, the researchers—consisting of a team of Japanese neuroscientists—watched as owners and their dogs interacted. After 30-minutes, the researchers measured the levels of oxytocin in urine and uncovered that the human-puppy pairs that made the most eye contact also had the highest amounts of oxytocin.
On the other hand, when researchers observed owners with wolves, there was no increase in oxytocin. This means that the love bond between dog and owner likely developed during domestication, which occurred some 34,000 years ago.
Evan MacLean, a senior researcher at Duke University and co-director of the Canine Cognition Center, who also contributed to the paper, says that dogs view their owners as parents.
“Our relationships with dogs are very much like parent-child relationships,” MacLean said in an interview with the Telegraph.”
“They became attuned to our social cues in the way that young children are. For example, when dogs are presented with an impossible task they quickly turn to humans to see what to do, just like children do. Wolves don’t do that.”
And similarly, the study found that dog owners view their pets like part of the family too.
“These results suggest that humans may feel affection for their companion dogs similar to that felt toward human family members,” Dr. Miho Nagasawa, one of the researchers of the paper, said in an interview with the Telegraph.
“Oxytocin plays a primary role in regulating social bonding between mothers and infants.”
Once again, we already knew all of this. What else would explain the way we spoil our dogs with toys on their birthdays, the fancy collars, and of course, how we happily surrender half of our bed to them?