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Why we love our dogs so much - the Oxytocin loop!

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

woman holding a dog in the window.
Our dogs are like children and there is a chemical reason for that. The oxytocin loop.

The bond between pet owners and their dogs is a special one. It's no secret that having a furry friend can make us feel happier and more content. But did you know that there's a scientific explanation behind this phenomenon? It all has to do with the oxytocin loop.

Oxytocin is a remarkable hormone and neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in various physiological and psychological processes in the human body. Often referred to as the "love hormone" or "cuddle hormone," oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. Its effects are wide-ranging and powerful:

Social Bonding: Oxytocin is perhaps best known for its role in promoting social bonding and attachment. It is released in large quantities during activities that involve close social interactions, such as hugging, kissing, cuddling, and during childbirth and breastfeeding. These interactions strengthen emotional bonds between individuals.

Childbirth and Breastfeeding: Oxytocin plays a critical role in uterine contractions during labour and childbirth. It helps facilitate the birthing process by promoting the rhythmic contractions of the uterus. Additionally, oxytocin stimulates milk ejection during breastfeeding, allowing infants to receive nourishment.

Stress Reduction: Oxytocin has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels. It counteracts the effects of the stress hormone cortisol by promoting relaxation and reducing the perception of stress. This can lead to a sense of calm and well-being.

Pain Modulation: Oxytocin has analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. It can reduce the perception of pain and increase pain tolerance. This effect is particularly relevant during childbirth when the body naturally releases oxytocin to help manage the pain of contractions.

Social Behavior: Oxytocin influences social behaviour by increasing trust, empathy, and generosity. Research has shown that it can enhance prosocial behaviours, such as cooperation and sharing while reducing feelings of social anxiety and fear.

Maternal and Paternal Bonding: Oxytocin is not limited to maternal bonding; it also plays a role in paternal bonding. Fathers experience an increase in oxytocin levels during interactions with their infants, contributing to the formation of strong parent-child bonds.

Sexual Function: Oxytocin is involved in sexual arousal and orgasm. It promotes sexual receptivity and intimacy in both men and women, contributing to the pleasurable aspects of sexual activity.

Memory and Learning: Oxytocin can enhance memory and learning. It has been shown to improve the consolidation of social and emotional memories, which can impact how we remember and respond to social interactions.

Cardiovascular Health: Some studies suggest that oxytocin may have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system. It can reduce blood pressure and improve heart health, potentially through its stress-reducing properties.

Oxytocin is a remarkable hormone with a wide range of effects on the human body and behaviour. Its role in social bonding, stress reduction, pain modulation, and various other processes highlights its significance in human physiology and psychology.

What is an Oxytocin Loop?

The oxytocin loop occurs when a dog owner interacts with their pet. When a dog owner pets, cuddles, or plays with their dog, their brain releases oxytocin. This surge in oxytocin creates feelings of pleasure and contentment, which strengthens the bond between the dog owner and their pet.

But it's not just the owner's brain that is affected by the oxytocin loop. The dog's brain also releases oxytocin when they interact with their owner. This means that both the dog and the owner experience an increase in oxytocin levels, which reinforces the bond between them.

Research has shown that the oxytocin loop can have a variety of positive effects on both the owner and the dog. For example, studies have found that interacting with a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve mood. In addition, dogs that are regularly interacted with have been shown to be more obedient and responsive to their owners.

So, the next time you're spending time with your furry friend, remember that you're not just having fun – you're also experiencing the oxytocin loop. And this loop is strengthening the bond between you and your dog, making both of you happier and healthier in the process.

In addition to the physical and emotional benefits of the oxytocin loop, there are also cognitive benefits. Studies have shown that interacting with a dog can improve cognitive function in both children and adults. For example, children who read to dogs have been shown to improve their reading skills, and elderly adults who interact with dogs have been shown to experience improvements in memory and attention.

The oxytocin loop also plays an important role in the training and socialization of dogs. When a dog is praised or rewarded by their owner, their brain releases oxytocin, which reinforces the behaviour and makes it more likely to be repeated. This is why positive reinforcement is such an effective training technique for dogs. It also helps to strengthen the bond between the owner and the dog.

But the oxytocin loop isn't just limited to pet dogs. Studies have found that interacting with other animals, such as cats, horses, and even fish, can also trigger the release of oxytocin in humans. This suggests that the oxytocin loop may play a role in the human-animal bond more broadly.

In conclusion, the oxytocin loop is a powerful mechanism that strengthens the bond between pet owners and their dogs. It has physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits for both the owner and the dog, and it can also improve training and socialization. So, the next time you're spending time with your furry friend, take a moment to appreciate the oxytocin loop and the special bond that it creates.

And that is why we love our pets so much!

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