Have you ever seen a dog that bore a striking resemblance to his human? Perhaps that dog was yours, and the human was you? A new study took a look at the belief that dogs look like their owners, and concluded it’s not a coincidence after all. Many dogs really do resemble their owners, and strangers are able to match owners with their dogs with amazing accuracy, just by looking at their face.
Sadahiko Nakajima, a psychologist from Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, wanted to find out if people really could match dog owners with their canine friends just by looking at photographs of their faces. He wasn’t the first to conduct this kind of experiment, and his results were similar to what other researchers had discovered. Many dog owners do have a physical resemblance to their dogs.
But Nakajima didn’t stop there. He didn’t understand how complete strangers were able to match owners with their dogs with such an impressive and significant rate that was higher than mere chance. Nakajima recently decided to do another experiment to try and figure out if the resemblance was based on any particular feature on the face. He reasoned there must be something more than luck guiding the people who were looking at the photographs.
Satisfaction is that good feeling you get after finding a solution to a difficult problem. We all have “eureka moments” when all of the pieces fall into place, allowing us to finally figure something out. According to new research, dogs also have eureka moments. Your dog’s favorite treat is the “paycheck” that canines prize – along with the opportunity to earn it. The treat is the motivating factor, but working for it is just as important to canines. It seems that humans are not the only species to get satisfaction and pleasure from completing a challenging task.
Researchers in Sweden tested 12 Beagles paired up into six groups. Six different pieces of equipment were introduced to the dogs. When used correctly, each piece made a distinctive noise to indicate when the task was completed. An example of equipment used included playing a key on a toy piano, pressing a paddle lever that rang a bell, and pushing a plastic box off a stack that made a noise when it hit the floor. In each pair of dogs, one was an experimental dog and the other one was a control dog.
After all 12 dogs were trained, they were taken to a testing area where the equipment was set up. At the entrance was a holding area where each dog waited to perform their specific task. An assistant led him to the starting arena, then turned their back and gave no interaction or instructions to the dog.
Scientists have known for decades that some mammals, bees, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish are capable of seeing ultraviolet light. A new study published earlier this year has added dogs and cats to the list of animals that can see UV light. This means that dogs and cats can see things we can’t, which might explain why your pet stares at something that’s invisible to you.
On the color spectrum, the visible light we can see includes red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Ultraviolet light sits above violet, and is invisible to us because the lenses in our eyes block out ultraviolet wavelengths that can be harmful. UV light has shorter wavelengths than the visible light we can see.
Before this study came out, scientists believed dogs and cats also had protective lenses on their eyes that would filter out UV light, but they don’t. They have UV transparent lenses which allow the light to enter into the retina where it’s converted into nerve signals, sent to the brain and processed by the visual system. In addition to dogs and cats, rodents, hedgehogs, ferrets and okapis (an African animal related to giraffes) were all added to the list of animals with transparent lens. And the amount of UV light they can detect is significant.
Ivan Pavlov, a Russian scientist, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1904 for his work on the digestive system of mammals. He is famous for his revelation in classical conditioning. Pavlov discovered by accident that the dogs in his lab had learned to associate food with his lab assistants. They would salivate when any of the assistants entered the room whether they had food or not. It was a response to a stimuli and something the dogs learned on their own. Classical conditioning was the first step in beginning to understand how dogs think.
From the beginning of the 1900s up to the 1960s, scientists focused on dog behavior, but they lost interest and didn’t resume studying canines until the beginning of the 21st century. For the last 14 years, scientists have found a renewed interest in canine research to better understand a dog’s body language – including subtle signs they use, how they think, how they learn, the emotions they feel, how they view their world, and what they like. As we learn more about why dogs behave in certain ways, we have a better understanding of the canine mind and what dogs think about.
Of course, the answer to the question of what dogs think about is as complex as it is in determining what humans think about. We don’t have the ability to get inside the mind of another person to understand precisely what’s going on in their mind, nor can you really understand what your dog is thinking about when he’s staring at you. I know from personal experience how good some dogs are at problem solving, especially if they are trying to figure out a way to escape from their enclosure or steal food behind your back.
“Object permanence” is a term created by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. It’s the ability to understand that an object continues to exist even if it disappears. It may be gone from view, but we know it still exits even though we can’t see, touch, smell or hear it. This concept is an important development of awareness that human babies learn at around 18-24 months.
Researchers have discovered that dogs also understand the concept of object permanence, and it occurs earlier in canines than it does in humans. Puppies can understand the concept as early as 5 weeks. It’s easiest to see when you watch how dogs react to magic tricks.
Object permanence is not an ability that humans or dogs are born with. It’s a learned perception of awareness that comes from processing the existence of a stimulus while it is present. One summer a chipmunk set up an underground home inside my dog pen. I wasn’t aware of it, but noticed that my dog, Dozer, kept nosing around in one corner of the pen. It was obvious a smell had his interest, but he acted more curious than anything else. That is, until he caught sight of the chipmunk scurrying into his hole. Once he saw the critter disappear into the hole, his terrier heritage kicked in. Even though he couldn’t see the chipmunk, he knew it was in that hole. I’m sure it was Dozer’s persistent digging that caused the chipmunk to move his home to a safer location.
We already know that dogs are experts at reading our body language and have the ability to read our emotions by looking at our face. We also know that dogs respond to our tone of voice in much the same way we understand another person’s tone. A new study was recently released that gives us a deeper understanding into how the canine brain processes the emotional tones of our voice to understand how we feel.
Scientists have been trying for years to get into the head of canines to unlock what goes on in their mind. Several years ago Dr. Gregory Berns, a Neuroeconomics professor at Emory University, and his colleagues trained dogs to remain calm and lie quietly in an MRI scanner so they could scan the canine brain with the dog fully awake and unrestrained.
In a nutshell, Neuroeconomics is the study of how we make choices by evaluating risks and rewards, and when interacting with other people. When other researchers learned it was possible to train dogs to lie still inside an MRI scanner, it opened up more studies into how the canine brain works. The surprising finding is that dogs, like us, have a dedicated voice area in their brain that receives and interprets emotions in the voices of humans and dogs.
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