The hormone is known to play a role in childbirth and lactation, but Romero said that prior studies also show it mediates maternal behavior, mother-infant bonding and pair bonding.
The researchers chose to study dogs, she said, since they are known to form close emotional bonds with each other as well as with another species -- people.
The spray likely won't magically turn enemies into buddies. The researchers said that, when taken as a whole, all of the studies suggest that the effects of oxytocin are context-dependent. The hormone appears to strengthen pre-existing friendships and family connections, but it could stimulate the forging of new beneficial relationships. Romero explained that oxytocin is a promising candidate for treating animal, including human, deficits in social integration.
Professor Larry Young of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center is director of the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience and is the author of the book "The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction."
Young told Discovery News that the new study is "remarkable," in that it "demonstrates for the first time that the same brain chemical that promotes mother-infant bonding and pair bonding between mates/partners is also very likely involved in the bonding between dogs and their owners."
He continued that it's also the first study "to show a neural or chemical mechanism of cross-species bonding."
Young agrees that oxytocin holds great promise for treating people with social impairments, such as autism. He also said that it might also be used to treat previously abused dogs that are distrustful of their new and well-intended human caregivers.