The front door is open, you are ready to leave, but once again you look around and meet the huge eyes of the whining King Charles Spaniel. Once again you stroke him, once again you say that you will be back soon. Goodbye scenes like this are familiar to every dog owner. And every time the heart bleeds - both the owner and the dog. This scene is played out every day at millions of doors in Germany.
Almost 15 million cats and 9 million dogs live in German homes. And together with other species, the number of domestic animals in Germany reaches 34 million - more than in any other European country. Germany loves its pets.
But how are things on their part? Do they love us too? And if so, how exactly?
To properly understand the possible feelings and perceptions of our pets, we need to first figure out what form of love we are talking about at all. After all, there is no one definite love, it can be expressed in completely different ways. We can be in love with someone, want to be with someone, as well as love ourselves, feel love for friends and acquaintances or for family members. In all these cases, it is not the same love. Love is always different.
The ancient Greeks described these different types of love very accurately. So, for example, erotic love is called eros, love between family members is called storge, and love that arises between friends is filia.
To what category are the feelings that - perhaps - our pets feel about us?
Let's start with the pet, which is probably the clearest expression of love for us, the dog. Stronger than any other beast, she shows us her sympathy. Numerous scientific studies have focused on her behavior, and scientists quickly came to the conclusion that dogs are actively seeking human contact. In just a few months, the strength of the puppy's affection is already unequivocally directed towards the owner or mistress rather than other dogs. This is also found in the biochemical processes that occur in dogs when they come into contact with humans. For example, their blood pressure drops when we stroke them. But to the same extent, these animals feel the pain of separation and fear when we temporarily leave them. We humans, or, better to say, dog owners, have these feelings in much the same way. Our stress levels and blood pressure decrease when we pet dogs and increase when we whine and leave them alone.
This relationship has been backed up by scientific studies that have examined the chemical processes in the brain. In dogs and humans, like all other mammals, any form of attachment behavior is supported by a whole cocktail of hormones. The main role in this process is played by the hormone oxytocin, which is also called the "love molecule" or "attachment hormone". This hormone is produced in all mammals when, for example, they experience sexual arousal. But its level also rises when we see a person whom we love, for example, a close family member.
Interestingly, dogs respond with a release of oxytocin not only to communication with other dogs, but also to communication with humans. Among mammals, this is an extremely rare phenomenon.
The same thing happens with cats. In a study at the University of Claremont, it was found that oxytocin levels in cats increased when their owners pet them.
However, compared to a dog, a cat produces five times less oxytocin.In other words, cats love you five times less than dogs, writes study author Dr. Paul Zak.
Nevertheless, the results of the study show that there is a kind of family love that unites us with dogs and cats. But there is no need to talk about erotic love. Even if dogs regularly perform coital movements on our feet, this has nothing to do with sexuality. Rather, it is an expression of unresolved tensions in the dog-human relationship. Some experts interpret this behavior as a manifestation of dominance, while others assume that in this way dogs literally let off steam. This behavior is observed in both male and female dogs, and sometimes in cats.
To summarize: your dog or cat loves you! They do not view you as a potential sexual partner, but rather have feelings for you similar to those we have for our parents, brothers or sisters. If we use the classification of the ancient Greeks, then this is storge.
Things are somewhat different with our feathered friends. Birds have feelings for their owners that are rather similar to eros. If, for example, you stroke a parrot in certain - one might say “wrong” - places, then he sometimes perceives this as a prelude and begins to produce sexual hormones. If you do not want to arouse such emotions in your bird, then, as experts recommend, it should not be stroked on the back, on the wings or under them. Advice to all bird owners: With these facts in mind, be careful.
In the end, I would like to mention another form of love that most animals share with us. It is about the feeling that cats and dogs have in equal measure when they hear the sound of a bowl of food placed on the floor. The same feeling is experienced by the fish when he sees food crumbs falling to the surface of the water in the corner of the aquarium. In this case, animals view their relationship with us as a kind of reliable friendship, the main manifestation of which is a stable supply of food. And even if this feeling may seem somewhat selfish, but still it is a manifestation of loyalty and a feeling of reliability in relationships in the spirit of philia, love between friends. And friendship, as is often said, is the highest and purest form of love.