Have you ever felt like your dog just really "got" you? Or that the two of you were in-synch mood-wise? Well, it turns out it wasn't all in your head. New studies have come out that are changing the way we look at man's best friend.
According to new research in the field, the connection between dog and owner is so deep and intertwined that it's possible for canines to "catch" their humans' feelings. That's right - not only can our four-legged friends tell the difference between when we're feeling happy, sad, or anxious, but they're also able to internalize the emotion and reflect it as well. As Arizona State University's director of the Canine Science Collaboratory, Clive Wynne, explained, "The emotional connection between humans and dogs is the essence of the relationship."
But this connection can manifest in deep ways, Wynne went on to explain. "Dogs are amazingly social beings, so they are easily infected with our warmth and joy," Clive commented. And the same can be said about a dog owner's nervous energy. But how does it all take place? Well, according to National Geographic, this deep connection boils down to a number of factors, including the emission and reception of hormones, human scent, neural activity, and changes in appearances.
However, in addition to all these elements, one particular factor has become of distinct interest - especially due to changes in lifestyles in the COVID era. As scientists see it, the extent of dog-to-human connection also depends on the length and intensity of the relationship. And as many of us have been spending increased amounts of time at home with our pooches, the relationship has deepened. Larry Young, Silvio O. Conte Center for Oxytocin and Social Cognition's director at Emory University, sees dog and owner bonding as a never-ending loop of sorts.
"Oxytocin release is stimulated by eye contact or social touch such as petting, and it works both ways - from dog to human and from human to dog," he explained. "In order to have emotional contagion, dogs need to be able to recognize the emotions of their owner - that requires attention, which oxytocin facilitates. It causes the brain to focus on social cues."
Be sure to check back for more scientific updates from the animal world...