Do dogs feel love?
A part of our brain, the caudate nucleus is believed to be responsible for our feeling of love. A recent study did an MRI scan on 12 dogs who were presented with different smells. According to this study, the caudate nucleus was at its maximum potential when presented with a scent of a familiar human. Another study found that dogs release oxytocin when being pet. Oxytocin helps people form emotional bonds with others. These suggest that dogs can feel love for their owners.
Can dogs experience love?
A study was done where 12 dogs were presented with 5 scents, one being of their owner. An fMRI scan was done of the dogs while they were presented with the smells. The scans showed activation in the caudate nucleus. The caudate nucleus controls approach-attachment behavior, ranging from plain approach to a target, to romantic love. It is shown to be active in people who are in love and is a part of our reward systems.
Another study looked at the relationship between dogs and oxytocin (the love hormone). This is the first study to suggest that dog sociality toward people is related to polymorphisms in the OXTR (oxytocin receptor) gene. Oxytocin is associated with our feelings of love. This means that the more social or friendly a dog is to a person, the more of this hormone has been released.
Marc Bekoff concludes that strong emotions like happiness and love are what keeps social animals like dogs and humans together. It helps motivate the individuals in the group to protect and support each other.
This is a very important question to me, so we did a little bit more research on it and what I found really shows that dogs do feel love.
Love is associated with the dopaminergic reward system. Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. People with low dopamine activity are a lot more likely to be addicts. It has been proposed that romantic love stems from this reward system. A study of 17 people who were in love did a functional magnetic resonance imagining to see what is going on. The results showed high activation in the right ventral tegmental area and right caudate nucleus, both rich in dopamine! These results suggest that love is primarily a motivational system, rather than an emotion (Fisher, 2015).
Another study by Ortigue (was not able to find the article) shows that when a person falls in love the brain releases oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone. It has been shown to play a huge role in maternal bonding, reducing stress and that it plays a role in social synchrony and cooperation (Arueti, 2013). So if we look at love as a combination of hormones and brain activity, than dogs should have those as well.
18 adults and 18 canines participated in a study of oxytocin levels. Participant’s oxytocin levels were measured upon arrival, after reading and just sitting in the room for 10 minutes. The participants then interacted with one dog. The null hypothesis was that there would be no change in blood pressure or hormone levels. Research showed that there was an increase in oxytocin and dopamine levels in dogs and people after a positive interaction (Odendaal, 2003).
Another study on German Shepherds and Border Collies concluded that dog’s social behavior towards humans is influenced by the oxytocin system (Kris, 2014). This study took DNA samples from the dogs after they had an interaction with humans. The samples were then analyzed for the behaviors traits that were exhibited by the dogs towards the humans. The study suggests that oxytocin receptor gene polymorphisms have an impact on proximity to unfamiliar humans and on how friendly the dogs were toward the human.
An fMRI was done of 12 unrestrained dogs who were presented with 5 different scents, one was of their familiar human. The study was focused on the caudate nucleus (which has been shown to control approach-attachment behavior which includes romantic love (Villablanca)). They hypnotized that the scent of humans would trigger the reward systems in the caudate nucleus. The fMRI showed activity in the caudate nucleus when the dog smelled the scent of a familiar human. This suggested reward-response to familiar humans. (Berns, 2015)
These studies show that the same systems are active when our dogs have interactions with us as the systems that are active in people who are in love. I do think that more research needs to be done on this topic, but I do think that this suggests that our dogs do love us.