Dogs have been called social parasites. They adhere to us and change our social structure. We alter our routines to incorporate them in our lives. In the US alone we spend billions of dollars of our disposable income on their feeding, enjoyment and care. We happily pick up their waste, we let them sleep with us, we groom THEM. How did this happen?
One of the newer theories suggests that the more outgoing/friendly/bold wolves joined us at our campfires 100,000 years ago. We likely threw them scraps of food, improving their nutritional state. This in turn increased their fertility and neonatal survival. Generations of breeding and inbreeding of these canines willing to tolerate humans, AND regular human influence on their social patterns led to the cuddly creatures that live with us today.
Recently we’ve learned that when we cuddle or interact with our pet we get a release of oxytocin, a brain neuromodulator. Oxytocin is the ‘love hormone’, produced by mothers when birthing, but also recognized to play a role in pair bonding and social recognition in both sexes.
So dogs influence us on an emotional and neurochemical level. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that.
On Saturday, a good client of ours brought in their new 7 week old lab for it’s first exam. The puppy was half asleep and the first thing I did was bring him right up to my face and nuzzle and kiss him. Other than breathe his puppy breath on me, he was not actively influencing my response. In other words, I was hard wired to stimulate him, not the other way around.
It’s hard to recognize it in the day to day chaos of life, but we are altruistic beings at our core. We want to care for others. We want to exist in pleasant social groups. We need to interact with individual beings to be ourselves fully. I think the dog ancestor was in the right place at the right time. We’ve influenced each others development. Our brains were already hardwired to accept the terms, we needed the stimulation to feel the love.