New hormone spray could make your dog friendlier

Mother Nature NetworkJuly 10, 2014 

Do you have a territorial pooch? Does your dog get anxious around other dogs or people it doesn't know? A simple spritz from a potent new type of hormone spray could transform your dog from a yapper to a cuddler, reports Discovery News.

The spray's active ingredient is the hormone oxytocin, a substance secreted by the pituitary gland known to affect cooperative behavior. When sprayed into the nose of dogs, it has been shown to make them especially friendly and affectionate. In fact, the hormone is known to affect more than just dogs. Most mammals show similar behavioral changes when exposed, including humans. The hormone might even have the ability to transform your grumpy cat.

"Studies in humans have already shown that oxytocin affects our tendency to affiliate or cooperate with other people," explained Miho Nagasawa, co-author of the spray study. "As far as we know, there are no studies on cats, but we believe that oxytocin is a hormonal mechanism that facilitates the maintenance of close social bonds not only in dogs or cats, but also in any mammal species since the oxytocin system is very ancient and has similar functions in a wide number of taxa."

The study looked at how 16 adult dogs of different breeds behaved before and after being sprayed with the oxytocin formula. Scientists paid special attention to changes in bonding behavior, such as when the dogs displayed affectionate licking, gentle touching with the nose or paw, playing and resting in contact with another's body. Doggy disposition toward both other dogs and their human companions was monitored.

"We found that after receiving the oxytocin spray, dogs displayed more affiliative behaviors and paid more attention to their owners than during the controls," said lead author Teresa Romero.

The spray was found to promote natural secretion of oxytocin in the brains of the dogs. A high degree of heart rate variability was also observed. You might call it a veritable friendship potion for hounds.

The most immediate application for the spray will probably be in dog training. It potentially could usher in a next generation of spray-training, replacing water bottles with the oxytocin formula.

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