You think the world of our beloved fur babies, but have you ever wondered what they think of us? Humans may never fully know the secrets inside the head of man’s best friend, but science offers a peak to those mysteries. In studying canine brains through MRI scanners, scientists are discovering how dogs’ minds work and how they think. Their conclusion? Dogs are complex and emotional creatures just like people. Here are some facts about dog brains and other fascinating discoveries about our loyal companions.
1. Dogs really love you
Yes, your dogs do love you. It’s a fact. Researchers found out that they don’t only see us as their owners, but as their family as well. In addition, dogs do see us as more of their kin than other dogs outside their pack. A study from Vienna’s University of Veterinary Medicine showed that dogs loved performing tricks and tasks for us, and their positive receptors light up when given praise.
2. Dogs know your scent
We know dogs are superheroes when it comes to their sense of smell. They have 300 million-plus olfactory receptors in their noses (humans only have about 6 million). They can track a missing person with just one whiff of a piece of personal item or clothing. In 2014, researchers found that human scent activates the reward center of a dog’s brain. The study also concluded that dogs will prioritize human scent over other dogs and pleasant smells.
3. Dogs read your emotions
Dogs also have the uncanny ability to read the difference between smiling and neutral human faces. They will use visual facial cues in their reaction to people. Dogs are also experts in determining a human’s attentive state. If your dog sees you are looking at him, it will be more attentive to you. But if you cover your face or turn away, your dog may stop paying attention altogether.
4. Dog brains have similarities to humans
According to neuroscientist Gregory Berns, canines and humans both have a part of their brain called the caudate nucleus. Their brains light up for human signals, and these signals may have a direct line to their reward system. Plus, the caudate links positive emotions with the human scent. This process is called functional homology and is a possible indicator of emotions in dogs. Tip: get some brain-stimulating dog toys because they are smart and complex creatures.
5. Dogs love looking at your pretty eyes
Dogs are the only non-primates who like to look people in the eye to communicate. They would look at their owners when they want food, attention, and other things. It can also be reflective of their timidness or aggressiveness. Like humans, dogs are known to engage in staring contests to establish dominance. Dog trainers also say eye contact with your pet is important to focus their attention.
6. Dogs understand words…almost
Studies have shown that dogs process language the same way we humans do. The left hemisphere of their brains works out familiar language, while the left hemisphere translates emotion. University of Sussex’s Victoria Ratcliffe says dogs are aware of who we are, how we say things, and also what we say. Your dog can understand commands and words that they associate with attention, reward, or scolding.
7. Dog process sound like you do
Just like with words, the way dogs process sounds is similar to us bipeds. Neuroscientist Attila Andics notes that pups recognize the meaning of sounds and will respond accordingly. Tests also show that emotionally charged noises like laughing, crying, and barking caused physical reactions in dogs and humans. However, dogs had more reactions to canine sounds than to human ones.
8. Dogs also have love hormones
Dogs also have the same kind of hormones and chemical reactions humans get when they experience emotional highs. A study done at Azabu University in Japan found that levels of oxytocin increased in both dogs and humans when the two parties gazed at each other. This warm and fuzzy hormone is associated with the bond between mother and child.
9. Dogs understand intonation
Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Researchers from Hungary say that the auditory cortex of a dog’s brain is more stimulated by words spoken in a pleasant tone, especially happy noises. That’s why even if you are baby-speaking gibberish to your dog, he will wag his tail in delight.
10. Dogs know how you are feeling
How many times have your dogs comforted you when you are having a bad day? Scientists say that the thing we think is empathy in dogs is more likely emotional contagion. They react to emotions rather than understanding those certain feelings you are having. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, dogs ‘comfort’ their humans because their ulterior motive is to gain comfort for themselves. However, a Goldsmiths College in London study found that dogs will comfort both upset, familiar humans as well as strangers. It’s not perfect, but we’ll take it.
11. Dogs are like human babies
Scientists estimate that a dog’s brain is the equivalent of that of a toddler. Like young children who will run to their parents for comfort when they are upset or scared, dogs will run to their humans for help. Scientist Gregory Berns says that dogs’ ability to experience love and other positive emotions would mean they have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.
12. Dogs dream too
You have seen your dog growl or kick its legs while sleeping and assumed they are dreaming. Yes, you are right. Dogs do dream. Scientists who have done tests on rats discovered that their less-complex brains are capable of dreaming. This means dogs can dream too since their brains have the same electrical sequences present in rats.
13. Dogs don’t feel sorry
Have you ever caught your dog doing something bad like trashing the house or destroying a shoe? You get so mad at them so they hit you with their go-to ‘I’m sorry face’. We interpret this as a display of their guilt or shame, but it’s fear. Dog brains are advanced compared to other animals, but they are incapable of feeling remorse, Scientists say that they aren’t reacting to what they did. Instead, they are reacting to your reaction to what they did.
14. Dogs recognize faces
Dogs can recognize and remember the faces of humans and other animals they have encountered. A study that examined dogs’ reactions to everyday objects revealed their brain’s temporal context shifted significantly while looking at faces. Other factors like sounds and smells play a huge part in recognizing a human, but it’s still an amazing skill.
15. Dogs are people too
Scientist Gregory Berns says the similarities between humans and canine brains are undeniable. His studies and experiences moved him to write an op-ed for the New York Times making a point for dogs to be treated like people. So get your pupper some brain-stimulating dog toys this weekend to show appreciation to your furry friend.
We hope to have helped you understand what our favorite pet’s are thinking by listing down these facts about our dog’s brains. How about learning some more things about them with a few fun facts?