December 11, 2017

Differential Effects of Oxytocin on Social Sensitivity in Two Distinct Breeds of Dogs (Canis familiaris)

This article focuses on the effects of oxytocin on the socialization between humans and  Siberian Huskies and Border Collies. First, they explain that the Siberian Husky and Border Collie can be separated into two distinct groups: cooperative workers - the Border Collies, in this case - those who are usually within eye contact of humans, and independent workers, the Siberian Huskies, who have infrequent eye contact with humans. This then relates to how the oxytocin system fluctuates when a dog is in contact with a human, which is similar to how a human’s oxytocin system works when a human is socializing with other humans.

For the experiment, researchers wanted to test the effects of oxytocin, administered intranasally, on two dog breeds that fall into the two different groups previously mentioned. They tested for the difference in responses for when a human looks towards an object during an unsolvable task, when faced with a new, possibly harmful human stimulus, and the toleration of eye contact during an emotionally neutral situation. From this, the conductors hypothesized that the cooperative workers would be more responsive to the visual cues given by humans when on oxytocin opposed to the independent workers. In addition, they believed that no matter the group, the dogs that received oxytocin would be more responsive to cues given by humans than the dogs that received the placebo.

During the experiment, they used nineteen Border Collie, nine males and ten females, that range between a year and a half to five years and a half. They then used nineteen Siberian Huskies as well, eight males and eleven females, that ranged from about two years old to about seven years old. The dogs that were tested on during this experiment received twelve IU of either oxytocin or placebo and was then taken on a twenty-five-minute walk where the owner would not interact with the dog at all and then the owner and dog would be placed into an isolated room, while still not interacting. Following this time period, the test subjects were presented with the unreachable food task in which, dogs were allowed access to food within a cage four times, but during the fifth trial the food was closed off and experimenters then recorded where the dog looked, specifically if it made contact from the owner to the unsolvable task. Next, dogs were presented with a possible threat scenario, where the dog and the owner were in a room and the experimenter played a growling sound five times within a fifty-second interval. Finally, the dog was presented with the experimenter and was timed for how long they kept eye contact while the owner kept the dog from walking away.

The results of the first task showed that dogs treated with the oxytocin were less likely to look at their owner compared to that of a dog treated with the placebo after a  certain time period. In addition, there was no variation across gender with this task. However, it was seen that the more cooperative workers did make more eye contact with the owners than the independent group. In the second trial, the experimenters noted that those there was a breed specific effect, where Siberian Huskies treated with oxytocin tended to have fewer gaze shifts and spent less time looking at their owner whereas the Border Collie had more gaze shifts and spent more time watching their owner. In the last trial, Border Collies treated with oxytocin had a higher tendency to look at their owner while Siberian Huskies had a smaller tendency to look at their owners.


Reviewed by: Danielle Folkerts


Kovács, Krisztina, et al. “Differential Effects of Oxytocin on Social Sensitivity in Two Distinct Breeds of Dogs (Canis familiaris).” Psychoneuroendocrinology, vol. 74, 2016, pp. 212–220.


Link: /files/pages/imce/dogbreeds/1-s2.0-s0306453016306977-main_2.pdf