by Noah Zimmer
Throughout the years one of the most beloved animals has been living symbiotically with its human counterpart. Dogs receive food and housing while humans gain love and affection. This bond between man and dog may have originated thousands of years ago, but why? Recent scientific studies propose that man’s best friend abuses the very hardwiring of our brain to survive.
The human brain is a fascinating organ. Chemicals it produces do many things, like making us run from a lion or compelling us to nurture a newborn child. These innate actions have helped us survive, but other species have learned to tap into our emotionally frail minds and live off of us like a parasite, most notably the dog. Takefumi Kikusui questioned how we formed bonds with this common household animal. Kikusui observed that the predicament came from the most innocent part of a dog possible: puppy dog eyes. “Our data suggests that owner dog bonding is comparable to human parent-infant bonding, that is, oxytocin-mediated eye-gaze bonding.” Oxytocin is a hormone that helps develop trust and bonding with infants. It “gives you that warm fuzzy feeling.” The experiment had owners and dogs gaze into each other’s eyes for 30 minutes. Afterwords the oxytocin level in both humans and dogs increased. Even though most animals associate eye contact with threats, “there is a possibility that dogs cleverly and unknowingly utilize a natural system meant for bonding a parent with his or her child.”
Roughly 15,000 years ago, dogs first diverged from wolves. Back then to endure hard times they would survive off of leftover bones. Now to win over the hearts of humans they used their manipulative looks. Another researcher, Evan MacLean, stated that “dogs might have come to recognize the importance of gaze between parents and children and then saw how that helped them build a similar relationship… One fun evolutionary scenario might be dogs find a way to basically hijack these parenting type responses.” Another experiment conducted by MacLean involved showing a mother pictures of her own child, another child, her dog, and another dog. They found similar responses between pictures of her child and dog, but no response from someone else’s child and dog. It seems that in the mother’s eyes, her dog is worth as much as her own child and even more so than someone else’s.
Looking at how we seemingly befriended these adorable fuzzy leeches can shed another light on the subject. As writers for National Geographic Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods believe that the dogs domesticated us. “In the story of how the dog came in from the cold and onto our sofas, we tend to give ourselves a little too much credit. The most common assumption is that some hunter-gatherer with a soft spot for cuteness found some wolf puppies and adopted them.” They continue to explain that this assumption makes no sense. In ancient times, humans lacked tolerance for carnivorous animals. In England, we hunted wolves to extinction. They concluded that wolves probably approached us first. The wolves that were bold and mean were killed off, but the wolves that were bold and friendly were allowed to stay. These friendly wolves gradually adopted floppy ears and wagging tails. In addition they gained the ability to read human gestures. Between these lovable qualities and the clear advantages of owning a dog, we allowed dogs into our household.
While many people love their pets, they should still be wary that the affection only comes from a hardwired hormonal response. Dogs have spent centuries upon centuries perfecting their craft to make sure their species as a whole survives. So next time you find yourself in a pet store choosing a companion, keep in mind that they are actually the ones choosing you.
Noah Christopher Zimmer, a dog loving sceptic, is a simple man. When not spending his nights investigating new ways to procrastinate, he dazzles the common folk with magic tricks. Being 6’2″ he thrives on his unnatural limbo capabilities, feel free to challenge him any time. He lives by his favorite quote: “If life gets you down, make a jacket”.