Every morning, just before the alarm goes off, I feel a warm, wet tongue licking my nose. As I yawn and open my eyes, I find both of my pups staring at me intensely with big, loving, brown, eyes. Although they are very determined to wake me up, they do so very gently. It makes me wonder why my dogs are being so nice and polite in the morning. They could have just pounced on me like they often do when they want me to play with them. But they seem to have an intuitive sense of how to best relate to me at different times.
Science has proven that there are three primary biological reasons why dogs are so nice:
- Genetics beginning with their ancestors, the wolves
- Thousands of years of selective breeding by humans
- Hormones such as Oxytocin
Studies show that dogs respond positively to images of their owners’ faces and the sound of their voices. These genetic factors predispose dogs toward a loving bond with their human owners when nurtured in a positive environment. Keep reading to learn more.
What We Know About Why Dogs Are So Nice
Dogs have been bred over thousands of years to be loyal and affectionate companions to humans. This long history of domestication has shaped their behavior and temperament, making them naturally inclined to be friendly and responsive to humans.
One reason dogs are so social and friendly is that they are pack animals, and their instinct is to be part of a group. When they are raised and trained with humans, they see their human family as their pack, and they are naturally inclined to bond with and protect their pack members.
When I first adopted my two rescue dogs, who were six years old, all they wanted to do was hang out with me. They had been surrendered by their former owner when they were five and spent the next nine months in a kennels waiting for a new home. They quickly realized that living with me could be a good thing, and they adopted me as well. I still have sweet memories of us piling up together in the recliner on cold winter mornings.
In addition, canines are very social animals and have evolved to communicate with humans and other dogs through body language and vocalizations. As a result, they can read human emotions and respond appropriately, making them excellent companions and helpers for humans.
What Science Has Discovered
Dogs Evolved from One Primary Wolf Pack in Europe
Different theories have emerged about how dogs originally evolved from gray wolves over 40,000 to 20,000 years ago. It was thought that dogs originated from tamed wolves from two different populations living thousands of miles apart in Euroasia. These blended packs eventually became the beginning of what we consider to be the modern dog.
However, more recent research and anthropological studies now point to the modern dog’s origin from only one single population of gray wolves in Europe. It was posited that this population of wolves may have been a friendlier group who were less fearful of humans and more likely to interact with them.
BBC.com highlighted important takeaways of this study: “Krishna Veeramah of Stony Brook University in New York is a researcher on the study. He said the process of dog domestication began when a population of wolves moved to the outskirts of hunter-gatherer camps to scavenge for leftovers. ‘Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this,’ he explained.”
Therefore, the nice, more friendly and less aggressive members of that gray wolf population were the ones who did best at living around humans. As they became tamed, their offspring continued to carry and compound those genetic tendencies.
Additionally, genetic testing has been done to compare wolves to dogs and humans. Scientists discovered that dogs have some similar genetic components in their DNA similar to some human genetic threads regarding social gregariousness. The wolves that were tested did not have these genetic snippets. These genetic changes in dogs were then passed down over generations after tamed wolves evolved into domesticated dogs.
Early Selective Breeding Emphasized Friendliness Toward Humans Rather Than Skills
It was initially thought that dog breeding began around 7,000 years ago to strengthen specific physical characteristics and cognitive skills. However, the genetic testing cited above pointed to the theory that primitive dogs were initially bred to enhance their social friendliness and proclivity toward humans.
Breeding dogs for hunting, working, and various cognitive abilities came much later. After all, there would be little advantage to having a dog that might turn on his owner no matter how useful and skilled the dog might be. Breeding different types of canines for specific characteristics became very popular during the Victorian era.
Dogs and Humans Share the Same “Love” Hormone — Oxytocin
Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “love” hormone. This hormone enables mothers and babies to feel love for each other shortly after birth. Our furry friends have this same hormone as well. Studies have demonstrated that a similar loving bond develops when an owner and their favorite pooch lock eyes. You can read more about these scientific studies in my post, Why Do Dogs Make Us So Much Happier?
Also, stroking and petting our dogs and speaking pleasantly to them can elicit their feel-good endorphins. This further inclines our pups to respond to us positively. The evidence is usually seen in a wagging tail!
Other Reasons Dogs Like Us
From a practical standpoint, dogs can obtain a lot of benefits from hanging out and living with us. They get free food, a warm place to sleep, security, companionship, and a human “pack” family. In fact, food was the primary reason that their ancestors, the wolves, began interacting with humans to begin with.
However, it is not all about food. Studies have demonstrated that dogs react evenly to praise and food rewards. See my post Do Dogs Only Care About Food? for more information about these studies.
Humans and dogs have a natural predisposition to one another. But as in any relationship in the mammal family, loving bonds must be nurtured and developed. The deeper the bond with your dog, the greater the love and attachment.
Genetic evolution, early breeding, and hormones predisposed our canine friends to be friendly and nice toward us. But the more critical test of their bond with us hinges on our positive interactions with our furry friends and how we treat them. Their loyalty to us is something we must earn and cannot be taken for granted.