Category Archives: dog research

Are Dogs Hardwired to Listen to Us?

dogs hardwired dan lentzBy Linda Cole

We express ourselves every day in different ways, especially through verbal communication. You can usually tell if someone close to you is happy, angry or sad by the sound of their voice. As it turns out, human and canine brains are very similar when it comes to understanding the components of human speech. According to a 2014 study, dogs are hardwired to listen to us in much the same way we are hardwired to listen to others.

It’s no easy task sometimes to get a dog’s attention, which leaves one to wonder if he even heard what you said – let alone understood your words. However, dogs are very capable of understanding human speech as well as picking up on the tonal complexity in speech. If your dog doesn’t listen to you, it’s not because he isn’t paying attention. He can differentiate between human speech that has meaningful words and sounds with only emotional inflections. Scientists have known for some time that dogs “get” how we say things, but little is actually known on whether canines understand what we say to them.

The human brain processes important verbal information in speech in the left hemisphere, but the characteristic parts of speech are processed in the right hemisphere – e.g., the speaker is male or female, someone familiar to you, and emotional cues. When we listen to someone speaking, we hear the meaning of words in the right ear and emotional cues in the left ear. Most of us have a left-right cross link in our auditory organs; in other words, the right ear hears meaningful speech and is linked to the left hemisphere of the brain while the left ear hears emotional cues and is linked to the right hemisphere.
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The Science Behind a Dog’s “Guilty Look”

guilty look iconoclastBy Linda Cole

Anthropomorphism is when we place human characteristics or behaviors on animals, plants, and inanimate objects. Dog owners sometimes use it to confirm the guilt of their pet after finding a torn up pillow or other signs of misbehaving. It’s obvious who the culprit is when there’s only one pet in the home. When there’s multiple pets, placing blame on the one with the “guilty look” could be indicting an innocent pup, which can damage your relationship with your dog. There is science that explains what a dog’s guilty look actually is.

In recent years, scientists have begun studying the complexity of the dog’s mind, how they view their world, and which emotions they experience. We know dogs feel fear, anxiety, grief, affection, suspicion and other emotions, but not necessarily in the same way we do. Guilt is an emotional response acknowledging wrongdoing, which is something dog owners assume their pet understands because of the “guilty look.” In reality, that look isn’t what it appears to be.
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Does Gazing Into Your Dog’s Eyes Facilitate Bonding?

dog gaze tonyBy Linda Cole

The close bond dog owners share with their pet is unique, and research has shown that both humans and canines benefit from positive interactions. Now a new study has provided scientists with some surprising findings about the power of a dog’s gaze, which also helps explain why the bond between humans and dogs is so tight.

The human/canine bond is a symbiotic relationship that benefits both species. In many households, dogs are considered treasured members of the family. Playing with, training, petting and grooming your pet helps create an unshakable bond. Researchers know we experience beneficial physiological and psychological changes in the body when interacting with dogs, and a recent study found that both humans and canines have a spike in oxytocin levels when looking into each other’s eyes.

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone” and is linked to the emotional bond between mother and baby. It’s also what bonds other mammals that mate for life, such as wolves, swans, beavers and bald eagles. The hormone helps create a powerful social attachment of affection, and in the case of humans and dogs, it’s fueled by a gaze.

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Can Dogs Recognize Their Owner’s Face?

dogs recognize christopherBy Linda Cole

We know that our dogs can tell us apart from a stranger. They know our individual scent and the sound of our voice, but just how well do they know our face? Could a dog pick out the person he loves by appearance alone? According to a 2013 study, a dog can not only recognize his owner’s face among others, he can also recognize them in a picture.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland trained 23 pet dogs and eight kennel dogs to lie still in front of a TV screen as they watched a series of images while their eye movements were tracked. Each dog was tested individually. The dogs were shown images that included photos of familiar human faces and dogs, as well as faces of people and canines they had never met. The pictures on the screen alternated between upright and inverted.

Using eye-tracking technology, sensors were fitted just above the dog’s eyes to determine where he looked and how long his gaze was when watching each image. When a picture appeared, the first place each dog looked was in the area around the eyes, which indicated they understood the images were faces. Researchers found familiar faces and the eyes held each dog’s gaze longer than unfamiliar faces. All of the dogs gazed longer at faces of their own species, however, than any of the human faces including pictures of people they knew.

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Can Dogs Recognize an Angry or Happy Human Face?

dogs recognizeBy Linda Cole

We can usually tell what kind of mood a person is in by observing their body language, facial expression and tone of voice. It’s an ability only seen in humans and one other species – dogs. But do canines know when we are happy or angry just by looking at our face? According to a new study, the answer is yes; your dog knows if you are giving them a smile or a frown!

Researchers in Vienna, Austria put 11 dogs through a series of tests to see if canines can recognize a happy or angry face by looking at images. The dogs were never shown the entire face of the person, and could only see either the top half of the face or the lower half. They could only make their decision by viewing the person’s eyes or mouth.

To begin the study, each dog was trained to correctly pick out images of the same person with either a happy or angry face. The group of dogs included a Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Fox Terrier, Border Collies and mixed breed dogs. Half of the dogs received a reward for picking out a happy face, and the other half had to pick out the angry face to earn their reward. To make their picks, each dog had to tap the correct image on a computer screen with their nose. A correct tap sent a treat down a tube to the dog.

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Could You Identify Your Dog by Scent Alone?

By Linda Cole

The sniffing ability of the average canine is 1000 times more powerful than humans, and they can locate their owner in a sea of other people. Some smells we encounter can cause an emotional reaction by stirring up past memories. Many everyday odors are registered unconsciously in the mind and we barely notice them. Dog owners may scoff, but one study showed that the smell of your dog is imprinted in your mind and that you do have the ability to recognize your pet by scent alone!

Different odors surround us every day in the home and workplace, but most of them are so familiar we don’t even think about them. We are more likely to notice an unfamiliar scent that catches our attention. There have been a handful of studies done on humans to determine if we have the ability to recognize people close to us based on smell alone. It turns out that mothers can accurately recognize the smell of their babies. Both mothers and fathers can identify the scent of their children, and women can accurately categorize strangers into different age groups based only on the individual’s scent.

In a study done by psychologists at Queens University in Ireland, 26 dog owners were recruited to participate in research to see if they would be able to identify their own dogs by scent alone. Each owner was given a flannel blanket and instructed to remove all other bedding in their dog’s bed and use only the flannel blanket for three consecutive nights. Owners were also instructed to have their dog sleep in a different room from theirs.

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