I have written an article in the past about why we love dogs and cats. You can find it here (I recommend reading it alongside this article).
However, in that article I only explored the psychological reasons behind our love dogs and cats. I did not dive into the chemical bond that we share with our furry – or not so furry – friends.
Of course, we have understood for a long time as pet owners that we do share a unique connection with our dogs and cats. But I still think that pet owners will be interested in reading about some studies to prove what we’ve felt.
Here are three reasons we feel a bond to dogs and cats. I’ll keep these explanations short, so the rest of this article should only take you a few minutes to read.
The Cuddle Factor
You may have heard it said that humans like animals based on their ‘cuddle-factor.’ In other words, the cuddlier and fluffier, the better!
It turns out that there are chemical reasons to explain why we like fluffy animals more: when we pet dogs and cats, various feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine, and beta-endorphins are released.
These feel-good chemicals are released in larger amounts when we not only pet but also scratch, hug, and talk to our dogs and cats.
Another interesting thing to note: a study conducted by professors at the University of Pretoria in South Africa recorded the blood pressure of people prior to being around dogs. Then, they put the people with dogs for 30 minutes and measured the blood pressure again. It had decreased!
This cuddle factor partially explains why we are naturally bond with dogs and cats!
Our History with Animals
We bond with dogs and cats, but we (usually) don’t keep cockroaches, spiders, or snakes as house pets. Why?
The reasons stem back to our circumstances prior to modern civilization. Thousands of years ago, we were much more exposed to the wild.
Cockroaches spread diseases, and spiders and snakes are venomous. So, when a person saw another human die from a disease or snake bite, he realized that snakes and cockroaches were BAD house pets.
Dogs and small cats, however, endear themselves to human beings, even back then. Thus, we learned that it was okay and even beneficial to domesticate these animals. Historically, then, we have naturally bonded with our pets.
Reading our Social Language
Two recent studies have documented that dogs can understand – to an extent – the two crucial ways human beings socially communicate: pitch and facial expressions.
In 2018, a group of researchers conducted a study in which they showed dozens of dogs six pictures of a male and female face depicting each of these emotions: sadness, happiness, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise.
The dogs’ heartrates accelerated when the facial expression depicted fear, anger, and happiness, indicating that they got stressed. Why? Because dogs are wary of bared teeth.
Now, here is something from the study that’s amazing: when dogs were shown neutral facial expressions, they turned their heads to the right, and when dogs were shown fear, anger, and happiness expressions, they turned their heads to the left.
Because the right side of dogs’ brains control emotions and sympathy. They are more drawn emotionally to the neutral facial expressions and vice versa.
New Tips to Bond with your Pet
Now that you know why we bond with dogs and cats, you may be wondering, “What can I do to reinforce my bond with my pet?” Here are some quick tips, derived from what we’ve learned in this article:
1. Keep a neutral expression
My two dogs get stressed out in certain circumstances. For example: they get stressed in the car or when our family’s packing for vacation.
Sometimes, I make the mistake of overexaggerating my facial expressions in order to calm them down. Instead of doing that, we should keep our facial expressions neutral so as to calm their heartrates somewhat.
2. Pet your dog or cat often
I already mentioned that our blood pressure decreases when we pet our fur babies.
Incredibly, dogs have lower blood pressure when humans give them love and attention! Their blood pressure decreases significantly when we hug them. So, let’s pet our dogs and cats regularly to ensure a strong bond.
3. Make eye-contact
In a 2011 study, researchers discovered that dogs track human eye movement.
But I didn’t need a study to tell me that…My dog, Gracelynn, tilts her head and eyes up from her bag of treats to the ground – then looks at me – when she wants a treat!
If you want to strengthen your bond with your pet, it’s important to note that dogs are noticing communicative signs in your eyes when your interacting with them.