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versión On-line ISSN 1668-7027


DZIK, Marina Victoria; BARRERA, Gabriela  y  BENTOSELA, Mariana. The relevance of oxytocin in the dog-human bond. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2018, vol.35, n.2, pp.527-542. ISSN 1668-7027.

Given the growing investigation on the dog-human bond and sociocognitive skills of domestic dogs, the focus of research has recently been shifted towards its physiological correlates. Oxytocin (OT), a neuro-hormone that modulates affiliative and sociocognitive behaviors in a wide number of species, has received particular interest. The aim of this paper is to review studies which focus on the effects of OT on the socio-cognitive behaviors in dogs. These works were divided into investigations that measured endogenous and exogenous administration of OT. Several endogenous OT studies measure OT concentration in dogs using samples of blood, urine or saliva. In these studies, OT effects on affiliative interactions, mutual gazing and stressful situations were found. Physical contact and gazing were affiliative interactions which modulated the OT release. In addition, proximity and contact seeking were associated with OT release in stressful situations. Exogenous OT studies measure the physiological and behavioral effects of OT intranasal administration. These studies were grouped into research that found effects of OT in social interaction, gaze, communication, and cognitive bias in dogs. In the social interaction studies, intranasal OT was found to improve affiliative behaviors with both interspecifics and conspecifics. In gazing studies, this neuro-hormone was found to increase gazing towards the region of human eyes, even in threatening contexts. Regarding communicative effects, OT modulated the ability to follow human communicative cues in dogs. Moreover, was found that OT increased positive cognitive bias and induced positive expectations. Although there is evidence of OT influencing behavior on both sexes, some studies have found differences based on gender. For example, the females had longer gaze duration toward humans, improved following of human communicative cues such as pointing and looked more at projected images on a screen than males. These effects could be explained by the interaction of the OT system and the estrogen levels in females. Concerning the applied area, OT could beused in the treatment of canine behavioral problems such as social deficits, phobias and separation anxiety. Moreover, it could facilitate integration in dogs with poor early socialization, like shelter or abandoned dogs. In addition, it could improve the training in rescue and assistance dogs. However, further research is needed since there are no follow-up reports of treatments in dogs. In conclusion, OT increases affiliative behaviors in dogs both towards humans and their conspecifics. Regarding endogenous OT studies, effects were found with both brief interactions ranging between 3 and 4 minutes, as well as long-term interactions, between 25 and 30 minutes. In exogenous OT studies, although there is no consensus on the amounts of OT to be administered, effects were found with 2 IU / kg,12, 24 and 40 IU on at least one of the measured variables. Specifically, nasal OT enhances the ability to use human communicative cues, induces positive expectations about neutral stimuli, and increases gaze both toward human eyes and to socially relevant stimuli. A number of exogenous OT studies showed differential effects on sex. Female dogs had greater responses to exogenous OT administration than males. Therefore, sex should be a variable to be considered in future studies. In sum, although the studies in this field are incipient, OT appears to be key in the interaction between dogs and humans since it participates in the interspecific bond, affiliative behaviors and socio-cognitive skills in domestic dogs.

Palabras clave : Oxytocin; Domestic Dogs; Bond; Social Cognition; Communication.

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