When I was a kid, dogs were happy bundles of love. Today, at least in Berkeley, a lot of them are grouchy, neurotic and fearful. Monash University's Animal Welfare Science Centre will study whether inhalilng oxytocin can make shelter dogs more adoptable.
When I researched my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I found strong evidence that the oxytocin response is shaped by early postnatal experience. I don't see why this would not be the case with dogs, as well. If a puppy doesn't get lots of love and attention from its human caretaker after it's separated from its dog mother, it may not learn to bond well with humans.
While some dogs at a shelter have a strong drive to connect with the humans to visit, coming to the bars and wagging their tales, others cower in the back or bark defensively. Not surprisingly, these are the dogs most likely to be put down after a few days.
Researcher Jessica Oliva will start a trial of 80 shelter dogs to see whether having a dog inhale oxytocin as it leaves the shelter with its new owner can increase the likelihood they will bond -- and decrease the likelihood of the dog being returned.
While I advocate that humans take the time to rebuild a healthy oxytocin response naturally, these dogs don't have that much time.
I might advocate that the adopting humans in the study also get a snort of oxytocin.