We know you love your dog but does your dog really love you? For more than 30,000 years, humans and dogs have co-habited and today, our furry friends have only become more popular. In fact, in fifty percent of American households dog hair is evident.
Dogs wag their tails and slobber us with their kisses, it certainly appears like they love us back. We all love to believe that, but are we sure?
Dun-dun-dun-dun! Yes! The answer is yes. Thanks to brain imaging technology, we’re now beginning to get a better picture of the happenings inside our furry friends’ cranium.
Scientists are studying the brains of dogs and what the studies show will definitely make you smile. Dogs do not merely love us back, they actually see us as their family. It turns out that man’s best friend relies on humans more than they do their own kind for affection, protection, and more.
The most direct brain-based proof that dogs are devoted to humans comes from a recent neuroimaging study about scent processing in the dog brain. At Emory University, animalcognition scientists trained dogs to lie still in an MRI machine and used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to monitor their neural responses to the smell of people and dogs, both familiar and unknown. Because dogs are olfactory creatures, the way they process smell offers a lot of potential insight into social behavior.
It was found that dog owners’ scent actually sparked activation in the caudate nucleus or the “reward center” of their brains. Out of all the smells to take in, dogs prioritized the hint of humans over anything or anyone else.
These results went along well with other canine neuroimaging research. In Hungary, a group of researchers at Eotvos Lorand University studied pooches’ brain activity in response to different human and dog sounds.
Among other astonishing findings, the study revealed marked similarities in the way dog and human brains process emotional sounds. It was found that happy sounds light up the auditory cortex in both species. This similarity speaks to the uniquely strong bond and communication system of humans and canines.
“It’s very interesting to understand the tool kit that helps such successful vocal communication between two species,” Attila Andics, a neuroscientist, told Mic. “We didn’t need neuroimaging to see that communication works (between dogs and people), but without it, we didn’t understand why it works. Now we’re really starting to.”
Behavior research supports the neuroscience research as well. According to Andics, canines interact with their human caregivers in the same way human babies do their parents. When terrified, scared, or worried, they run to their owners, just like distressed kids run to parents. This is in contrast to other domesticated animals such as cats and horses whose initial reactions are to run away.
Our canine friends are also the only non-primate species to look humans in the eyes – something Andics together with other researchers discovered about a decade ago. Andics studied the domestication of wolves and aimed to raise wolves like dogs.
Dogs seek out eye contact from humans, but not their biological dog parents.
“Bonding with owners is much more important for dogs than other pets,” said Andics.
The scientists have also considered the dog-human relationship from the other direction and as it turns out, people reciprocate dogs’ strong feelings.
In a study published in PLOS in October 2014, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers studied human brain activity in response to photos of dogs and children where study participants were women who’d had dogs and babies for at least two years.
Both photos sparked activity in brain regions associated with emotion, reward, affiliation, visual processing, and social interaction. This means both dogs and little human family members make us equally happy.
Dog lovers have committed a few notable mistakes in reading dogs’ facial expressions, like the often-recorded clips of dogs looking‘guilty’. Most behaviors experts agree that guilt is an emotion that requires a complex notion of self-awareness that dogs probably don’t have.
But, of course, as with family, our instinctive assumptions about dog behavior are often correct.
“Sometimes our intuition about what’s going on inside dogs’ heads is dead-on,” said Laurie Santos, the lead researcher at Yale’s Canine Cognition Center. “Like, that dogs are seeking out help from us — and that’s true based on studies — which is different from even their closest relatives, wolves.”
The exact wish or worry skulking in a dog’s adorable face may not always be clear. But we can delight in the fact that we know our pooches love us as much as we hoped and maybe even more.
They may be not human children but they see us as family.
Images: Borbala Ferenczy
Source: Brain Mic