Hormone spray appears to strengthen connections between dogs, owners

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a new oxytocin-based spray appears capable of improving interactions between humans and dogs, according to Discovery News.

Oxytocin, a hormone released by the pituitary gland that is believed to play a role in childbirth, lactation, maternal behavior, mother-infant bonding, and pair bonding, seemed to create closer ties between dogs and owners after dogs were sprayed with the formula, researchers said.

The study followed 16 dogs of various breeds as they interacted with familiar dogs as well as their owners, both before and after being sprayed. Researchers paid attention to behaviors such as sniffing, licking, gentle touching with the nose or paw, playing, and resting in contact with the other's body, as well as how much attention dogs paid to familiar dogs or their owners.

"We found that after receiving the oxytocin spray, dogs displayed more affiliative behaviors and paid more attention to their owners than during the controls," lead author Teresa Romero told Discovery News.

Dogs also appeared to be more likely to approach each other when dosed with the oxytocin spray versus a placebo. And when dogs approached each other, researchers found that the interactions induced dogs' brains to produce their own oxytocin.

"Additionally, the exchange of socio-positive behaviors with dog partners triggered the release of endogenous oxytocin, highlighting the involvement of oxytocin in the development of social relationships in the domestic dog," researchers wrote in the study abstract.

According to Discovery News, the spray has multiple potential applications including strengthening existing relationships between dogs or between dogs and their owners, or even helping previously abused dogs that are slow in warming up to their new owners. 

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