Tag: dogs

Why you should gaze into your dog’s eyes

Posted in news by jenapincott on May 9, 2009

2226912113_a02d77537eTo quote George Elliot: “That quiet mutual gaze of a trusting husband and wife is like the first moment of rest or refuge from a great weariness or a great danger.” Locking eyes with a loved one triggers a powerful hormonal response, in particular the release of the hormone oxytocin. The more oxytocin absorbed by receptors in your brain, the more trusting, attached, and calm you’ll feel.

Have no trusting partner with whom to share that “quiet mutual gaze”? Not to worry: a new study led by biologist Miho Nagasawa at Azabu University in Japan has found that much of the same benefit can be gained from your pet dog.

Yes, dogs have been found to increase their owners’ oxytocin levels much in the same way that close human companions do. Nagasawa and his colleagues measured urinary oxytocin concentrations from 55 owners (male and female) just before and twenty minutes after interacting with their dogs. The owners were divided into two groups: those whose dogs gazed at them frequently and extensively (~150 seconds per gaze) during the half-hour interaction, and those whose dogs made less eye contact (<50 seconds). In a control experiment, the owners were forbidden to look at their dogs while interacting with them.

Owners who made extended eye contact with their dogs had significantly higher oxytocin levels in their urine after the experiment than beforehand. Owners who only made brief eye contact with their dog during the interaction didn’t have much of an oxytocin surge. Nor did any of the owners when they weren’t allowed to make eye contact with their pets. Duration of ownership and the gender of the owner and dog were ruled out as significant factors.

Oxytocin, conclude the researchers, works just as well for inter-species bonding as it does human bonding. A mutual gaze triggers semiautomatic attachment behavior, and it’s not limited to lovers and babies. The owner perceives an emotion in the animal’s gaze and anthropomorphically interprets it as mutual attachment. When the eye lock is extended and nonthreatening, we’re hardwired to reciprocate in kind (which, as I detail in BLONDES, is why it works so well for lovers). Oxytocin facilitates this bonding effect — and the owner feels emotionally closer and satisfied by the pet in the same way he or she might in a human relationship.

Do dogs get the same oxytocin rush from gazing at their human companion? It’s unclear. While humans gaze at their pets to fill their hearts and souls, our pets might gaze back to fill their stomachs or to establish dominance. But I’m not completely cynical. I have a precious Siamese cat who has been my companion since I was a teenager. She has chronic renal failure now. One of her eyes is a milky gray, the result of a cataract and luxated lens that the vet doesn’t want to fix. She rests on my lap as I write. Once in a while she picks up her head and gazes at me with her one blue eye, and I know she loves me too.

Do people really look like their dogs?

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 11, 2009

Clicking through the New York Times photo montage from the Westminster Dog Show yesterday, the classic question surfaced: Do dog owners resemble their dogs? There was the portly man with the shiny bald head lumbering around with his bulldog, the sleek dame and her whippet, a man resembling an Eastern potentate padding around the green with his Pharoah dog….

It’s no surprise then that a study from the University of California found that it’s true — dogs look like their owners, and owners look like their dogs. Psychologists photographed 45 dogs and their owners separately, then asked judges to guess which dog (of two) belongs to each owner. The judges were extremely accurate at matching — they were right much more often than by chance — but only for purebred dogs. There was also a trend for people and their pets to be rated similarly for friendliness. The researchers conclude that people who buy purebreds deliberately seek an animal that resembles themselves, and perhaps even acts similarly.

As discussed in BLONDES, the same has been found true for some people, especially women, in long-term relationships. They end up with spouses who resemble themselves, either physically or temperamentally. It turns out to be more a matter of comfort than aesthetics. Not everyone looks for a similar-looking mate, but a significant percentage do.

More interesting is the question of whether the type of people who have look-alike canine companions also seek look-alike human companions. On the streets of NYC I see look-alike couples — often two Wrangler-wearing leathermen — swaggering down the street with their identical mini-me pitbulls. So many questions: Did the guys own their dogs before meeting each other? After all, dog owners are more likely to get dates. If so, were the men attracted to each other’s pets before they were attracted to each other? (Or was the initial spark entre chiens?) Is owning the same breed of animal more bonding than owning the same brands of clothes or cars?

Dog owners more likely to get dates

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 5, 2009

paris_hilton3Psychologist Nicolas Guguen, who conducted experiments on how makeup and thoughts of love affect men’s behavior, has recently turned his attention from men to dogs. More specifically, he and his colleagues published a study on how dogs facilitate social interactions among humans. Is it true, for instance, that women are more likely to get hit on when walking their puppy? Are men more likely to get a woman’s number when walking a dog than when strolling solo?

As you might expect, the answer is yes — evidenced by the number of well-groomed dog owners so obviously on the prowl. And now we have further proof because all of Guguen’s experiments prove that dogs endear their owners to strangers. 1.) Men and women, when soliciting passers-by for spare change, were given more money when accompanied by a dog. 2.) After dropping coins on the ground, dog owners were more likely to get help picking them. 3.) And yes — when hitting on women in the street, men scored more phone numbers when walking a dog than when walking alone.

Interestingly, the type of dog might also have an effect, according to an earlier study. Researchers sent a woman out on the street with three different types of dogs (Labrador Retriever puppy, Labrador adult, or Rottweiler adult). When the woman was alone on the street, most people ignored her. When walking the Rottweiler, the woman got somewhat more attention. When walking the Labs, either the puppy or the adult, the woman attracted much more attention in the form of smiles and verbal responses — suggesting the dog’s looks, personality, and approachability count as much if not more than the owner’s.

Social cues — signs of character and approachability — are among the topics explored in BLONDES. Clearly, dog ownership is one of those cues — suggesting receptivity and even kindness. If this is true, perhaps the best dating advice is to get thee to a shelter — and be sure to vet the dog’s personality and attractiveness as thoughtfully as you would any other life companion.


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