DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition
Oxytocin: A Dog’s Best Friend
by Jessica Steinort
Scarborough Middle School
Sponsoring Teacher: Mary Ann Page
Third place, junior division, 2011
The bond between humans and man's best friend has intrigued people for centuries. What could be the cause of this mysterious bond of man and dog? It is suspected that the hormone oxytocin may be to blame. The effect of oxytocin has long been seen in relationships between mothers and children. As of late, it has also been noticed in human and dog relationships. The bond between humans and dogs because of oxytocin should be more fully researched.
A few weeks ago, I was enjoying a late-night NOVA marathon with my family. We had our buttered popcorn and remote in hand. The episode we were currently watching was named 'Dogs Decoded'. It explored a wide variety of topics on dogs. I was starting to lose interest when a small phrase caught my ear. The role of the hormone oxytocin in creating the bond between mothers and their newborns. Mothers and newborns, I wondered, what in the world does that have to do with dogs? Naturally, I wanted to learn more. I've loved dogs ever since my father adopted a great big German Shepard/White Lab mix named Teddy. I started researching what oxytocin did in human-dog relations. Once I started, I just wanted to find out more and more.
Oxytocin is a peptide hormone, which is a compound that has two amino acids in a chain, with the carboxyl group of the acids joined to the amino group of the next by a connection of the type. It's responsible for almost all things love-related. So much, it's earned the nickname the love hormone. In multiple studies, owners had their blood taken, petted their dogs for a specified amount of time, and had their blood taken again. A notable study was performed by Kerstin Uvns-Moberg of the Karolinska Institutet of Sweden. She and other researchers took a blood sample before a petting session, and oxytocin was absent. Then the researchers took blood samples at one minute and three minutes. Uvns-Moberg stated you could see this beautiful peak of oxytocin. The fascinating thing is, actually, that the peak of oxytocin is similar to the one we see in breastfeeding mothers.(NOVA, 1) The oxytocin effect in human-dog relationships is also beneficial. For example, Laura Bush held and stroked her new puppy, Ms. Beazley, during a press conference prior to the inauguration of George W. Bush. New York Times reporters noted that Mrs. Bush seemed calm (Dogs and Chocolate, 1). Little did they know the reason for Mrs. Bush's unruffled exterior came in such a small form. When humans experience a peak in oxytocin, it also lowers their blood pressure. Amazing effects can come from such a little hormone.
Indeed, oxytocin seems very related to maternity. In another study, men who inhaled a synthetic version of oxytocin had intensified memories of their mothers. Those who had good memories of their mother, remembered the best things about their matriach. Those who had bad recollections of their mother, after inhaling the oxytocin, had some negative things to say about the leading lady of the household. The similarities between a human-dog relationship and a mother-child relationship are obvious. For instance, some dog owners refer to themselves as Mommy or Daddy and treat their pet in an infantile manner. We see ourselves as their parents and not just their owner. Furthermore, we lavish attention on the members of the canine society to whom we are familiar.
So oxytocin has proved a miracle for many, and unlocked very many secrets. However, dogs are still a complete mystery. Why do we have such a strong connection with animals whose predecessors were once out to get us? It is undeniable that humans are extremely attached to their pets. As Socrates once said: Know thyself. What better way to know ourselves then to look at what we have strong bonds to? Namely, dogs. Scientists are constantly researching humans, finding new leaps in all fields. They promote our longevity, find amazing medical advances, and teach us more about ourselves.
To know more about ourselves, we should learn more about the role of oxytocin in our connections with dogs. We already know that we have an oxytocin peak when we pet our pooch. We know that the relationship is similar to that of mother-child. However, we don't know why. How will we know about ourselves if we don't know about our pets?
- Animals and Humans. Volume Library 1. 2001 ed.
- Dogs Decoded. NOVA. Nov. 9, 2010. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogsdecoded.html (Retrieved December 23, 2010)
- Drs. Justice, Rita and Blair. Dogs and Chocolate. Health Leader. Feb. 2, 2005. (Retrieved December 23, 2010)
- Gardner, Amanda. 'Love Hormone' May Boost Men's Memories of Mom. healthfinder.gov. Nov. 29, 2010. (Retrieved December 23, 2010)
- Oxytocin Knockout. NDH. (Retrieved December 23, 2010)