Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we work with pet guardians who would move heaven and earth for their cat or dog. Our pets become part of our family; it’s why we want to do the best for them. Do our dogs know this? Is that why we perceive them as being so loyal? Or is it just their nature?
Is it quite as simple as us fulfilling their needs, or are there some feelings involved?
To get to the bottom of this, it makes sense to go back to the beginning and look at how we actually ended up with these balls of fluff on our sofa.
Our modern-day dog is a result of the domestication of wolves. We only have a ballpark figure as there is some confusion as to when this actually occurred. Somewhere between 14,000 -135,000 years ago gives us an idea though.
What is clear, is that it happened based on mutual gain.
Wolves would seek out food and realise that human camps were a great place to scavenge.
Humans accepted the wolves for either protection or companionship.
And so, it began.
Wolves who were more accepting of humans would access more food and therefore stood a better chance of surviving. They would then produce off-spring who would follow in their parent’s footsteps and learn that humans = food.
Humans would accept friendly wolves and likely kill aggressive wolves thereby also influencing which wolves would survive.
So very early on, wolves learned that loyalty to humans equalled safety and food.
We can almost suggest that we have selectively bred dogs who are dependent on us. Studies have shown that if you present a dog with an impossible task, they will attempt it, but soon look to their owner as if to ask for help. Cats on the other hand will continue to attempt the task in ignorance of their owner.
Not necessarily. Studies have also shown, that when a dog is forbidden food, he will obey the wait command for as long as the commander has direct sight of the food. If the commander closes their eyes, the dog will disobey and take the food.
Dogs are incredibly good at reading human cues especially when we are upset. Dogs show more interest in a human when they are crying as opposed to simply humming or talking. Dogs will nuzzle, sniff and lick both their owners and complete strangers.
Of course, you could argue that dogs have simply learned to do this. Chances are, if you’ve been upset and your dog has come over to you and nuzzled you, you’ve perhaps smiled, or made a fuss of them. Dogs learn from the consequences of their behaviour, so they may have simply learned that by doing this, they get a happy response with a pat on the head.
This isn’t a hard push when we learn that along with humans, when dogs are interacting with their owners, their oxytocin levels also increase. Oxytocin is released during pleasurable social experiences, often dubbed the love or cuddle hormone.
So, it does go both ways. When we interact with each other, we both get an oxytocin surge which makes us both feel warm and fuzzy! Win win!
It does therefore make sense that a dog’s loyalty is a way to keep us around – especially if it makes them feel good.
A recent study has shown that dogs have evolved new muscles around their eyes which allows them to raise their eyebrows, so to speak. This is something wolves cannot do. It is suggested that this raising of the eyebrows triggers a nurturing response in humans because it makes the dog’s eyes seem bigger and look sad! It seems that dogs are still evolving to “need” us more, or at least keep in our good books!
So, it seems that dogs are loyal because it means they get what they need, like food and shelter. But they also feel just as warm and fuzzy when they interact with us. They’ve learned to read our behaviour and what they need to do to keep us around. What is particularly interesting is that they are still evolving to develop features which will keep us nurturing them. Could this suggest that their loyalty may only get stronger?
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Thanks for reading,