Ever wonder if your dog truly loves you, or if it just appreciates having someone around to feed and house it? Wonder no more. The latest brain imaging research in canines suggests that dogs not only love you back, but they also look up to you as family.
A study by animal cognition scientists at Emory University indicates dogs actually have stronger bonds to their owners than they do with their own kind.
The researchers scanned dogs’ brains using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to examine canines’ brain activity when exposed to different smells. Because dogs rely on their nose for day-to-day life, the way they process certain smells can tell a lot about their social behavior.
The scents used in the study came from dogs and humans, both familiar and unfamiliar. The study found that the aroma of the dog’s owner triggered major activity in the reward center of the dog’s brain or the caudate nucleus. The aroma of the dog’s handler activated this area more than any other smell.
A study at Budapest’s Eotvos Lorand University examined how dogs’ brains react to different sounds made by animals and humans. Everything from voices to grunts and sighs were tested. The study concluded that “happy sounds” triggered the auditory cortex in dogs as it does in humans. This means dogs can actually recognize our mood changes based on the way we sound.
“It’s very interesting to understand the tool kit that helps such successful vocal communication between two species,” said one of the study’s lead authors Attila Andics, in an interview with 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.”
An earlier study involving Andics revealed that dogs are the only non-primate animals that seek eye contact from humans. They don’t even seek it from their biological dog parents.
Other behavioral research also highlights the paternal bond between dogs and humans.
Andics says that unlike petrified cats that would run away from a freighting situation, scared dogs would run to their owners much like babies would seek out their parents when distressed.
“Bonding with owners is much more important for dogs than other pets,” said Andics.
Of course, dog lovers don’t need in-depth research to help them determine when their doggies are feeling down.
“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.”
It turns out, man is dog’s best friend.