Dogs: Unique bonds, emotional intelligence and the ‘love hormone'


Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated by man, approximately 15,000 years ago (Serpell, 1995). Today domestic dogs come in many different shapes and sizes, from the mighty Great Dane to the tiny Chihuahua.

All these breeds originated from the grey wolf. It may be hard to believe, but the dogs we share our lives with are still genetically very similar to wolves, despite the thousands of years that have passed.

In tune with our emotions

Scientists are learning more and more about the complex abilities of dogs.

Research has proven that dogs are sensitive to our feelings. When shown pictures of people with typically happy and angry expressions on their faces, dogs are able to distinguish between the positive and negative emotions they expressed (Albuquerque et al., 2016). Usually this only happens between members of the same species, so it’s unique to see such understanding across different species. 

Likewise, humans have been shown to read a dog’s facial expressions too (Bloom and Friedman, 2013). We display stronger facial expressions on the right side of our faces, and so we tend to look more at the right side of other people’s faces. Scientists discovered that dogs have adapted their behaviour to look at the right side of our faces too, but they do not do this when looking at the faces of other dogs. These unique abilities have undoubtedly contributed to the powerful bonds between humans and dogs.

Not only do dogs know how to read us, they can also cause physiological changes in our bodies that encourage us to love them even more. When dogs stare into our eyes, oxytocin (also known as the ‘love hormone’) increases in both us and them. Similar results are seen when mothers look into the eyes of their babies (Nagasawa et al., 2009).

Dogs deserves our respect

Dogs are kept and bred for many different reasons. Some are ‘pampered pooches’ regarded as members of the family, others are viewed as protectors or workers, and in some cases dogs are viewed as meat for human consumption.

This vast spectrum in the way humans view and treat dogs gives just a hint of the many welfare problems they face.

Even when considered beloved members of the family, dogs often experience emotional stress when left alone - even for short periods of time. The fashionable penchant for big eyes and flat faces in our pets, leave many dogs in ill health and immense suffering each and every day due to health problems caused by selective breeding of certain characteristics.

In some communities, thousands of dogs are inhumanely killed, due to fear of diseases like rabies. It is estimated that up to 10 million dogs are killed each year for that reason.

Regardless of how they are perceived, or their size or shape, science has proven that all dogs feel complex emotions and have the ability to physically and mentally suffer, which should be acknowledged and recognised.  

Our Better lives for dogs aims to improve the lives of millions of dogs around the world. You be a hero for dogs – yours and others around the world by heading to our community page and uploading a photo of your dog.

By: Gemma Carder, Sentience Manager for World Animal Protection

Further reading

Albuquerque, N., Guo, K., Wilkinson, A., Savalli, C., Otta, E., & Mills, D. (2016). Dogs recognize dog and human emotions. Biology letters, 12(1), 2015088

Bloom, T., & Friedman, H. (2013). Classifying dogs’ (Canis familiaris) facial expressions from photographs. Behavioural processes, 96, 1-10.

Nagasawa, M., Kikusui, T., Onaka, T., & Ohta, M. (2009). Dog's gaze at its owner increases owner's urinary oxytocin during social interaction. Hormones and Behavior, 55(3), 434-441.

Serpell, J. (1995). The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. Cambridge University Press.

Meet Bruno: One lucky dog

Meet Bruno: One lucky dog

Bruno, a happy and lively puppy, is one of the lucky dogs receiving a rabies vaccination, as World Animal Protection celebrates issuing one million vaccination.