Scientists have struggled for decades to explain why dogs are so successful at living with people. They measured snout lengths and tooth sizes; they tested dogs’ intelligence; and they came up with elaborate theories. But for the longest time, these experts resisted the most obvious answer — I know because I was one of them.
It turns out that the secret to dogs’ success around people is not in their smarts; it’s in their hearts. It lies in their ebullient, unlimited, extravagant — almost abnormal — desire to form strong emotional connections with members of other species. The bond a dog has with a human is actually rather simple.
Dogs enthusiastically bond with individuals from any species that they meet during their first three months of life. Usually, this is us — but it doesn’t have to be. I have visited with goat ranchers in Arizona who have Anatolian livestock-guarding dogs, a breed originally from Turkey. These gentle giants protect the goats simply because they were put into the goat barn when they were pups. They grew up seeking out goats for the kinds of emotional connections that we are used to seeing our dogs look for with us.
Denying the Role of Affection
Ancient Greeks wrote about how dogs love people, but we scientists were slow on the uptake. We looked for special forms of intelligence that might explain how canines became the most widespread larger mammal on the surface of this planet. There certainly are some smart pups out there. Take Chaser, for example, the dog the BBC called “the world’s smartest.” Chaser knew the names of over 1,200 toys. She’d bring you any one of them if you asked for it. I saw it for myself when I met her. I asked for about 50 toys by name and she happily obliged, never once making a mistake.
Most dogs aren’t as smart as Chaser, though. The kinds of clever things they do in our daily lives — things like following our gestures to find stuff and realizing that we can’t see them when we turn our backs — can be done by other animals too, if they are raised by people and live their lives dependent on human beings for everything they need. Maybe scientists went after intelligence in dogs because at least we knew how to measure it. Affection — love — just seemed too squishy to turn into the cold hard numbers of science. Recently, however, my collaborators and I have found some ways to measure dogs’ capacity for love. Pet owners won’t be surprised to hear that we find this ability shines through every pore of their furry bodies.
Testing the “Love Theory”
In one super-simple test, we just asked people to sit down in a chair. Then, we let their dog into the room with them. We measured how much time the dog spent in close proximity to their person. We did this with dogs and we also did it with hand-reared wolves. All dogs are descended from wolves. If we want to understand what makes dogs truly special, we need to compare them to their wild ancestors.
We tested wolves at Wolf Park in Indiana, where the animals have been hand-reared since 1974. The park’s wolves are some of the most beautifully human-focused animals you could ever hope to meet. The person who sat down in the enclosure for our study had helped hand-rear the wolf we were testing. Therefore, we knew that this human and wolf had an extraordinarily strong bond. The wolf spent about a quarter of the two-minute test close by its human. Then we repeated the test with people and their dogs. The wolves may have been pretty interested in their people, but the dogs were totally off the charts. Most of the dogs spent every last second of the two-minute test period right up close to their person. That’s nearly four times longer as the wolves spent with their special human.
In the Genes
Armed, then, with this delightfully simple way of measuring the intensity of affection that dogs have toward people, we sent DNA samples (just a painless mouth swab) off to a geneticist to see if we could find the genes that might be responsible for the amazing change in loving behavior between dogs and wolves. It’s not easy finding genes for qualities like friendliness because the loving nature of an animal isn’t a direct consequence of its genetic endowment, but also depends on every single life experience that individual has had right up to the moment you carry out the test. To my amazement, we were able to discover the three genes that make the loving natures of dogs possible. I was doubly astonished to learn that there is an exceedingly rare syndrome in our own species that also involves changes to those same
genes. Williams-Beuren syndrome involves 28 genes and has many impacts. They range from a strange facial structure to heart defects, but its key symptom is an exceptional level of friendliness. Since we published our discovery, I have had many family members of people with Williams-Beuren syndrome reach out to me to share that they always felt there was something about their relatives that resembled the loving nature of dogs.
The Love Hormone
Additional research into dogs’ affection for the human species now circles the globe. Oxytocin gets called the “love hormone” because it has been found to increase when two people who are in an intense loving relationship — like mothers and their infants — look into each other’s eyes. At Azabu University in Japan, a research team led by Takefumi Kikusui, PhD, found the same oxytocin spikes in both dogs and their people when they looked at each other’s eyes. Researchers in Sweden, Hungary, and elsewhere have adapted a test that was originally developed to assess the relationship between caregivers and young children.
In this assessment, designed to mimic the comings and goings of real life, a young child is brought into an unfamiliar room and then left alone briefly with a stranger. Researchers observe how a toddler is mildly distressed to be separated from the mother, but then happy to be reunited. The same test, when applied to dogs and their people, produces remarkably similar results. This indicates that the bond between a pup and a person is very much like a child’s to his or her mom.
Dogs and Their Humans
Two scientists in Australia strapped heart-rate monitors onto the chests of people and their dogs and then asked them to snuggle while monitoring their heartbeats. The researchers found that when people and their dogs relax together their heartbeats come into synchrony — literally, “two hearts beating as one.”
At Emory University in Atlanta, Gregory Berns, PhD, and his team have trained dogs, using solely positive training techniques, to lie perfectly still in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. MRI scanners produce beautifully clear pictures of brain activity. Before Berns’ work, they had only been used on people, because only humans could understand the importance of remaining perfectly still in the noisy and claustrophobia-inducing machine. Berns’ team observed the dogs’ brain activity as they were reminded of their special people — or the possibility of a piece of sausage. Of course, the reward centers of the dogs’ brains lit up at the prospect of sausage, but for most dogs, the reward centers were even more intensely active at the prospect of being reunited with their human.
Sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me so long to realize that the uninhibited loving relationship I had with Benji, the dog of my childhood, actually captured the essence of the dog-human bond and explains dogs’ amazing success in the human world. We scientists wanted the answer to be more complicated.
Some people might want to say that science that only affirms what people already know is a waste of time — but I really don’t believe that, for a couple of reasons. First, many people think that dogs only love us for what we give them. “Cupboard love” is what we called it when I was growing up in England. But we can say now that this isn’t true. Most dogs love their people sincerely — not just as a means to get more treats. Second, we should use this knowledge to give our dogs what they need for happy lives with us. We love dogs because of their wonderful outgoing natures. We need to recognize that our pets’ very real social needs demand something back from us.
Giving Our Dogs What They Need
It is cruel to leave a dog alone all day while we are out at work and play. These exquisitely social beings cry out for company. Separation anxiety is the most common psychological problem in dogs. Often it is not an abnormal response to normal circumstances, but an understandable response to really unreasonable situations. Dogs are not like our smart devices that can be left alone for hours or days. Our dogs require company for their psychological health. So I am happy that we scientists got there in the end, and now we are doing everything we can to improve dogs’ lives with people by making the science of dog love and its implications more widely known.
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine Inside Your Dog’s Mind in 2021.
Dogs have been man's best friend for at least the past 15,000 years. Science now shows that this symbiotic relationship has been as beneficial for humans as their canine companions. Benefits of dog ownership include familial ties, a reduce risk of schizophrenia, and improved cardiovascular health.Why are dogs considered as man's best friend? ›
Dogs are social pack animals who thrive off of attention and affection, making them a prime candidate for a person's best friend. Since dogs have been domesticated to a point where they need us to survive, and we tend to find that we need them almost as much, people and dogs developed a symbiotic relationship.How dogs went from wolves to man's best friend according to scientists? ›
SAGAMIHARA, Japan — Dogs became “man's best friend” thanks to a gene that lowers stress, according to new research. Researchers in Japan say it made ancient canines more relaxed around people, enabling the special relationship to develop over time. One of the world's most favorite pets descends from wolves.How did dogs become man's best friend at an early age answer? ›
Dogs today evolved from wolves who first developed a relationship with humans on the hunting trail. Dogs have aided humans for thousands of years. Man's best friend has provided protection, companionship and hunting assistance since the days of the earliest human settlements.When did dogs become humans best friend? ›
Man's best friend may have been domesticated about 15,000 years ago, evolving from wolves around the time that humans were establishing their first settlements, new evidence suggests.Have humans and dogs always been friends? ›
That's not surprising, considering dogs have been companions to humans for the past 30,000 years. Scientists believe this very special relationship started when packs of ancient wolves began hanging around human encampments looking for scraps of meat.Are dogs more loyal than people? ›
It is not hard to believe that animals have hearts just like us; in fact, they are more committed and dedicated than we are. To lose their family is catastrophic. Dogs and cats grieve just as much, if not more, than humans. Dogs are your best friends, and in most cases you can trust them more than human friends.Is a dog is a man's best friend a quote? ›
In 1789, King Frederick of Prussia once said that a dog is a “man's best friend.” Centuries have passed since he coined this phrase into existence, and Oh, boy! has his words been proved right by our special connection with dogs.Why are dogs so loyal to humans? ›
There is a scientific basis for this: domestic dogs are descended from wolves, which man once took in and tamed with shelter and food in return for them acting as guard dogs. This reciprocal relationship remains in your dog's genes and their loyalty is a by-product of it.What did researchers learn about dogs and wolves in their communication experiments? ›
The researchers offered both the wolves and the dogs access to a common source of food. While the wolves showed greater aggressiveness, all of them were able to conduct a relatively sophisticated series of negotiations in order to get a share of the food.
Dogs evolved from wolves tens of thousands of years ago. During this time, certain genes that make dogs particularly gregarious have been selected for, according to research. This may give dogs their distinctive personalities, including a craving for human company.What is the scientific theory on why dogs are friendlier than wolves? ›
Hypersocial dogs had more DNA disruptions than the more aloof wolves, the team reports today in Science Advances . Disruption on a gene for a protein called GTF21, which regulates the activity of other genes, was associated with the most social dogs.Have dogs always been man's best friend since the Stone Age? ›
The first farmers brought livestock, agricultural skills and their dogs to Europe. Dogs have proved to be man's most faithful friend since Neolithic times, say scientists. As the first farmers moved up from the Near East towards Europe, it was their domesticated dogs which came with them.What was the starting point of friendship between the blind man and the dog? ›
The blind man stroked its coat gently tail to ear and said : " What a beauty you are. Come with me " He threw a handful of food which the dog ate gratefully. It was perhaps an auspicious moment for starting a friendship.What was man's best friend before dogs? ›
It's estimated that about 15,000 to 14,000 years ago, wolves (ancestors of the modern dog) began the transition from wild animal to domesticated companion.Who was the first pet dog? ›
The most widely accepted earliest dog remains are those of the Bonn-Oberkassel dog which date to 15,000 YBP. Earlier remains dating back to 30,000 YBP have been described as Paleolithic dogs but their status as dogs or wolves remains debated.Do dogs have a human best friend? ›
Whereas dogs are most likely to have a special, symbiotic, time-tested friendship with humans, there are plenty of instances where dogs closely bond with other animals. Sometimes, these are dogs; other times, the relationship is interspecific.Can dogs have more than one best friend? ›
Though you may believe that you are your dog's best friend, they may have canine best friends as well. Like many mammals, dogs evolved as pack animals, most likely to increase their likelihood of survival. However, that does not mean they do not also form social bonds. You may notice your pet has preferred playmates.Do dogs prefer humans to dogs? ›
The science confirms what we knew all along, that most dogs actively choose proximity to humans and, within a few months of being born, a puppy's attraction is clearly toward people rather than other dogs. Dogs exhibit varying degrees of separation anxiety when their humans temporarily leave them.Do dogs trust humans more than dogs? ›
Claudia Fugazza at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, found that despite being separate species, puppies intuitively trust human companions in the same way they trust dogs. Their findings revealed that a dogs' capacity to trust humans is very similar to that of their own dog mother.
Science proves that part of the canine brain is associated with positive emotions and they do, indeed, feel love for their human companions.Why does my dog lick me? ›
One of the most common reasons why dogs love to lick their owners is simply to show their affection. Since you're the one taking care of them, you're essentially their world! When dogs lick, pleasurable endorphins are released into their blood which makes them feel calm and comforted.Are dogs 100% loyal? ›
Dogs are innately loyal to humans, according to Michaelson Found Animals, likely due to the fact that they've been connected to us throughout history for hundreds of thousands of years. They are pack animals, meaning they depend on other members of their group for survival.Why dogs are so loving? ›
“The hormone oxytocin is released (in both dogs and people) when they interact/have contact with someone they like. This 'love hormone' helps cement and increase the bond we share … it's also the hormone that floods the system of new moms to amp up attachment to new babies.”What is the famous line of dog? ›
"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself."How intelligent are dogs? ›
According to several behavioral measures, Coren says dogs' mental abilities are close to a human child age 2 to 2.5 years. The intelligence of various types of dogs does differ and the dog's breed determines some of these differences, Coren says.Who is humans best friend? ›
The dog is often called man's best friend.Why are dogs so clingy? ›
Dogs are clingy for three basic reasons. Your dog may have great anxiety about being left alone. Various illnesses may cause the dog to seek comfort from your companionship. And a female dog about to be in heat may tend to stick closer to her owner.What is the most loyal pet? ›
Dogs are the most loyal of all house animals because they do everything to show that they care for the comfort of their owners.What's the most loyal dog? ›
- Golden Retriever. When you think of loyal dogs, golden retrievers are probably the first ones to come into your mind. ...
- German Shepherd. ...
- Saint Bernard. ...
- Labrador Retriever. ...
- Beagle. ...
- Dachshund. ...
- Rottweiler. ...
- Border Collie.
Dogs are known for their unconditional love towards their owners. This is a lesson that we can all benefit from. Their willingness to forgive and forget is one of the most inspirational traits and one that we should all attempt to simulate in our own lives. The bond between animal and human can truly be special.What is a lesson one can learn about life from a dog? ›
Your dog knows you at your best and at your worst. Tough times can be what foster the most growth. Learning to be patient with your friends (and yourself) through rough patches provides our loved ones with what they need at their weakest moments and reminds us that everyone deserves to be loved.What are two major hypotheses about how dogs evolved from wolves they are? ›
The two hypotheses are: Humans collected young pups from dens, raised them, found them useful, and bred them selectively for certain traits; and. Wolves domesticated themselves.Are dogs color blind? ›
Dogs possess only two types of cones and can only discern blue and yellow - this limited color perception is called dichromatic vision.What is the best reason why dogs and wolves have the same species? ›
Dogs and wolves have many outward similarities. After all, the two species descend from a common ancestor. In fact the two species share 98.8% of the same DNA. They can even interbreed (although their offspring are typically not fertile).What are 2 traits in dogs that make them different from wolves? ›
The dog, Canis familiaris, is a direct descendent of the gray wolf, Canis lupus: In other words, dogs as we know them are domesticated wolves. Not only their behavior changed; domestic dogs are different in form from wolves, mainly smaller and with shorter muzzles and smaller teeth.What is the most accepted theory of how dogs became domesticated? ›
Dogs may have become domesticated because our ancestors had more meat than they could eat. During the ice age, hunter-gatherers may have shared any surplus with wolves, which became their pets. The timing and causes of the domestication of dogs are both uncertain.Why are dogs the best friend a man can have? ›
Dogs get love, shelter, food and a safe place to live. We get company, affection, loyalty and dedication. It's a win-win situation for both parties, and that's why we love each other so much. There is no other animal on the planet that we have quite the same relationship with.Why did dogs become mans best friend? ›
Scientists speculate that friendship bloomed when those humans began taking in wolf pups, which led to socializing them from infancy. And since wolves instinctively operate in packs with a clear hierarchy, humans easily assumed the role of alpha wolf, establishing themselves as Those Who Must Be Obeyed.What is the conclusion of the blind dog story? ›
The ribbon-seller, the vendor and the perfumer observed the condition of the dog and felt pity on it. One day the perfumer borrowed the scissors from the ribbon vendor and cut of the dog's leash. In this way the dog regained its freedom and ran away happily.
The dog was not happy with the way he was living because he was sick and tired of wandering about by himself looking for food and being frightened of those who were stronger than him.What was the relationship between the man and the dog? ›
Humans and dogs have had a special bond for thousands of years—we see it in the way dogs work, play, and live with us. Most experts agree that this relationship developed when the wolf, the dog's ancestor, and human came in contact with each other.Is it proven that dogs love their owners? ›
You're not just imagining it: There's substantial research to support the claim that dogs truly adore their owners. An animal behaviorist confirms to Inverse there are all sorts of chemical goodness going on in puppies' brains when they're around us. It's even purer than you think.Do male dogs prefer male humans? ›
Whether or not dogs are more attracted to one gender can't be objectively answered because all dogs and people are different. But, dogs generally tend to be more attracted to a specific set of behaviors that are exhibited mostly by adult women. It's not that dogs are exclusively attracted to female adults.Which gender of dog is more loyal? ›
There is no significant difference between male or female dogs in terms of protective behaviors. Territorial or protective behaviors are more pronounced in unaltered dogs than in neutered dogs, and breed plays a role as well.