All Mammals have Oxytocin...including people. Translating from the greek as 'Quick Childbirth' and often known as the hormone of 'calm and connection it is emitted when a female gives birth and breast feeds. It is a survival chemical promoting contact, relationship, togetherness, safety, survival. When I stroke my dog, she not only enjoys it, but her levels of Oxytocin near double. Mine rise significantly too. This amazing brain hormone and neurochemical allows her (and me) to feel good, build a bond, reduce cortisol (a very necessary, but less pleasant brain chemical produced in high volumes when we are stressed...which is many of us these days for much of the time!...more about than in another blog!)...acts as a pain relief and encourages her to come back for more....who doesn't love to cwtch*?
The same happens when we make eye contact. Eye contact is of course not particularly natural for some breeds of dog...it conveys challenge and threat...as in some cultures of humans, eye contact can be disrespectful. BUT! eye contact and stroking a dog conveys the most amazing enhancing brain chemicals for both human and animal and supports the building of the bond between us. When I stop stroking my dog, she looks at me...reaches out for more...if this gets no response, she will bark, then takes her paw and gently nudges me....MORE!
But! I hear you say...dogs are not for everyone!...indeed (though everyone should try it!!~a self-confessed dog addict)...but hear ye...ALL mammals have oxytocin so get stroking your guinea pig, horse, pig, goat or cat for mutual brain benefit! Even chickens (I know, they are not mammals before you say something) can raise a persons oxytocin levels through the communication and connection that they invite. Put your hands under the wings of a chicken and feel the heat, the touch comfort, the increasing desire to care and nurture...that's Oxytocin! If you, like me know of children, or adults who are not so 'touchy feely', or circumstances where stroking an animal is more acceptable than hugging your boss, then this my friends is an excellent bit of science to support 'Bring a guinea pig to work day'...or at least having a class pet!
Why do I need Oxytocin? Soooooo many reasons, and so many benefits! Would you like to feel less stressed, more connected, able to tolerate more pain (physical and emotional) and feel happier? ...and that is just the start!
More on Oxytocin (and dogs in the first case) can be found in these excellent readable and accessible books.....
Made For Each Other by Meg Daley Olmert: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond
Habits of a Happy Brain by Loretta Breuning