The Role of Oxytocin in the Dog–Owner Relationship
Domestication Lab, Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Savoyenstraße 1a, A-1160 Vienna, Austria
Clever Dog Lab, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University Vienna, University of Vienna, 1210 Vienna, Austria
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Primatology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Received: 12 September 2019 / Revised: 9 October 2019 / Accepted: 10 October 2019 / Published: 12 October 2019
A number of studies have shown that when dogs and humans interact with each other in a positive way (for example cuddling) both partners exhibit a surge in oxytocin, a hormone which has been linked to positive emotional states. It is not clear however, if this increase in oxytocin occurs between any dog and human or whether this is more specific to the dog–owner bond. In this study we measured oxytocin levels in dogs and humans before and after they interacted with their closely bonded partner (dog–owner dyads) and with a partner they were familiar with but with whom they did not have a close bond. Based on previous literature we predicted that dogs and owners would show an increase in oxytocin after a positive social interaction, and that this increase would be higher when the dog and owner were interacting with each other than when the interaction occurred with a partner that was just ‘familiar’. In fact, overall we did not find an increase in either, dogs’ or humans’ oxytocin level, although there was a lot of variability in the response. We discuss various reasons why our results are not in line with other studies.