Who Loves Ya, Baby?
Why do dogs love people?
Science tells us that the hormone oxytocin (more commonly called the “love hormone”) is released in both dogs and people when they have a positive interaction, and it cements and increases the bond.
Also, research has shown that just the smell of a person they like will make a dog happy. When a dog smells his person that smell activates a reward center in the brain called the caudate nucleus. Apparently dogs don’t react the same way to any other scent.
But I think there’s more to it than what I’ve described in the above paragraphs. I wouldn’t dismiss what science tells us, but I think dogs (especially senior dogs) function intuitively and process everything emotionally so they can offer us a non-judgmental, no strings attached kind of love. And, more to the point, they love us because they know we need the kind of love they can offer us.
Human to human love is wonderful and fulfills an important need; being loved by other people—regardless of the kind of love you’re thinking about—helps center us and provides a connection to the human world that’s important, but love is often conditional, and it’s rarely a right now in the present non-judgmental emotional experience.
How is it possible that dogs know what we need? They know because they feel what we need. We can mask our emotional needs with all kinds of intellectual processing, but the bottom line is that underneath all of the rhetoric, how we feel guides our actions. What we think isn’t nearly as important as what we feel. Dogs get that and respond to it.
We see evidence of this emotional connection between dogs and people every day: dogs helping people grieve, dogs visiting hospitals and care facilities, dogs communicating with people who have a hard time being verbal, etc. I’m sure you have your own examples.
Let’s take the experience of fostering a dog for Old Dog Haven. Most fosters I’ve talked with say that the dog they’re fostering gives them something they need and value. Our dogs fill a need in our lives that’s all about grounding, validating, laughing, crying, feeling useful, living in the moment, and whatever other need comes to your mind.
Perhaps the lesson here is that if we could speak and listen from our hearts, our communication with others might be less complicated and more complete.