Do you have a dog that is slow to warm up to new people? Maybe an abused animal that is having a difficult time bonding with you? Or perhaps a dog who is not particularly anxious to interact with other dogs? If so, there may be help on the way, in the form of a hormone known as oxytocin.
Unofficially named the “love hormone”, oxytocin appears to have benefits that may extend past the human species and into the canine species as well. Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced in the pituitary gland by most mammalian species, including both humans and dogs. It is believed that oxytocin plays a number of roles in people, including affecting childbirth, lactation, maternal behavior, mother-infant bonding, and pair bonding. This hormone has been found to make people more social and less antagonistic.
A recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), was conducted to explore the effect that an exogenous source of oxytocin, in this case, a spray misted in the nose, would have on dogs. According to the researchers,
“We provide evidence that in the domestic dog oxytocin enhances social motivation to approach and affiliate with conspecifics and human partners, which constitutes the basis for the formation of any stable social bond. Furthermore, endogenous oxytocin levels increased after dogs engaged in affiliation with their dog partners, indicating a stimulation of the oxytocin system during social interactions.”
Though we have long recognized that oxytocin plays an important role in reproduction, this study would seem to indicate that its role goes far beyond, impacting the social relationships of both dogs and people. Specifically, oxytocin appears to play an important role in the bonding process between both dogs and their owners as well as between individual dogs (or groups of dogs).
How does this affect you and your dog?
- For those dogs that are shy of strangers, for whatever reason, and who are slow to develop a bond with an owner, this hormone could provide a means of speeding up the process.
- The hormone could also be useful where relationships need to be strengthened, whether that means relationships with other dogs or with people.
Though this study looks at the effect of applying oxytocin from an outside source, there is also an anxiety product known as the Reincoat that utilizes the endogenous production of oxytocin to relieve anxiety in dogs. The product works to encourage the dog’s body to produce its own oxytocin, which in turn acts to relieve anxiety.