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Dogs: They Make Us More Human

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I found this article by Linda Valdez on the site and thought it was great.  I edited it a bit but  the gist is still intact.  Enjoy!

Humans spend plenty of money on their dogs. The American Pet Products Association estimates that pet owners in the United States spent $47.7 billion on their pets in 2010. Most went to dogs: The association reports that 45.6 million American households have a dog, while 38.2 million have a cat.

Interacting with dogs can increase a human’s level of oxytocin. That’s the hormone that’s been called the “cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin is released when mammal mothers nurse their babies.

A study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior in 2008 was headlined, “Dog’s gaze at its owner increases owner’s urinary oxytocin during social interaction.” A team of Japanese researchers said the elevated levels of oxytocin found in humans after activities that involved eye contact with dogs “suggests that humans and dogs may have a common style of attachment, and this may partially explain why dogs can adapt to human society.”

On a recent episode of PBS’ “Nova,” Swedish researcher Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg said both human and canine subjects showed a burst of oxytocin in blood samples taken after people spent time petting dogs. The mutual “peak of oxytocin is similar to what we see in breastfeeding mothers,” she said.

Wendy Hultsman, associate professor for parks-and-recreation management at Arizona State University, is deeply involved with dog-agility competitions. She has done academic research on couples who participate in these kinds of dog sports, which require intense dog-human interactions.

“The bond is sometimes much stronger between people and dogs than it is between some members of the family,” Hultsman says of her soon-to-be-published research.

One of the best things about dogs, she says, is that they don’t offer opinions. In a world where even your cellphone has suggestions, that’s worth plenty.

“Dogs fill a wide void in people’s lives,” says Dr. Nancy Bradley, director of medical services at the Arizona Humane Society. She handles animal-cruelty cases, and she has seen “the worst of the worst” that humans do to animals.

When it comes to deciding who contributes most to the human-canine partnership, Bradley has no doubts: “Dogs give us much more than we give them.”


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