Why Do We Love Pets?

Featured, Science 2021-04-12

Are dogs truly man’s best friend?

With working from home now a common occurrence for many across the UK, every day has been Bring-Your-Pet-To-Work day. The cost of a puppy doubled over the course of 2020 and the nation has gone pet-mad, revelling in the increased opportunities to play with their beloved furry friend throughout the working week. But amongst all the gravy bones and fluffy toys it’s got us here at Notch wondering – why DO we love our pets so much?

As stated by the researcher John Bradshaw, dogs don’t provide the human race with any services that are essential to our survival. Unlike babies, pets don’t harbour the opportunity to continue our genes, and unlike other animals they don’t offer us food or clothing materials. They are merely an expense that builds year on year as more products and pet safety procedures are introduced. So, what is it about dogs that makes us tolerate the £500 cheques for chipping and furry wake-up calls? There have been many theories to explore this, each one presenting a new angle to explain the timeless wonder.

Hormonal Response: The ‘Gooey Warm Feeling’

One theory to explain why we love pets is hormonal response. A review of Meg Daley’s book, ‘Made For Each Other’, states that animals appear to have cells directly under their skin that activate the hormone oxytocin in the brain and the top of the spinal cord. Levels of oxytocin in the body, also known as the ‘love hormone’, tend to rise significantly when stroking animals – a response similar to that experienced when kissing, touching or breastfeeding. According to Daley, the optimum number of strokes to achieve this response is 40 per minute, and the oxytocin produced drives us to nurture and form an attachment with our pets that is similar to that of mother and child.

Whilst touch plays a big part in the release of this hormone, it’s not the only sense. There is also a correlation between time spent looking into the eyes of dogs and the gazer’s oxytocin levels. Therefore, between stroking and eye contact, this is how the bond is said to be formed that keeps pets under our roofs and in our hearts.

 

Communication is Key

In a report written by Estep and Hetts, the development and similarity of communication systems is another explanation for why certain animals, such as dogs, are man’s best friend. Humans are social creatures by nature, and the highly developed systems of communication that these animals present make humans more likely to interact and form attachments. Estep and Hetts list dogs and horses as two animals with highly sophisticated systems, whilst cats and guinea pigs tend to have less structured systems – explaining the occurrence of familiar human conditions such as separation anxiety in dogs, but not in other common household pets.

Genetics

Alternatively, a recent study published in Science suggests that the untimely bond between man and dog is more biological than behavioural. Through the analysis of 27 ancient dog genomes, a link between ancient humanity and dogs can be established, leading us to believe that such a friendship has existed for more than 11,000 years. The study shows that this historic connection runs deeper than just time however, with many similarities apparent between the two ancient genetic profiles.

Culture

Harold Herzog of Western Carolina University reduces our love of pets to mere trends and norms. He states that pet-keeping is purely cultural, with some cultures keeping pets because their cuteness is established and domestication approved. In these cultures, he suggests pet-keeping to be a ‘socially contagious’ trend that is continuously reinstated by its own popularity. This is whilst other cultures, such as the Kenyan Kiembu tribe and South Korean civilians, only know dogs as a means for protection or even just a late-night snack!

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