Is Your Dog Always Excited to See You?

February 9, 2016

dog excited kizzzbethBy Linda Cole

One of the simple pleasures in life is the enthusiastic greeting I get from my dogs every time I walk through the door, even if it’s only been a few minutes. My dogs act like it’s been months since they last saw me, and each one has their own way of showing how much they missed me. According to a new study, science can explain why your dog greets you with excitement when he see you – no matter how long you’ve been gone.

There are two components that explain why your dog is always so happy to see you. The first one originated in the early years of domestication when the common wolf-like ancestors of dogs and wolves made a choice to begin interacting with our early ancestors. Friendlier and more social wolves sought out humans, evolving into dogs. The more antisocial wolves wanted nothing to do with us and stayed away. That decision is what makes dogs different from wolves, even though the two species share some common behaviors. The wolf we know today is essentially much different from their ancient ancestors.

Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, trained dogs to lie still inside an MRI machine. His research team wanted to see how the dog brain works to better understand our canine friends. From previous studies, he discovered their brain works in a similar way as ours. Berns found that dogs can recognize faces of humans and other dogs, and the region of the brain that lights up is the same area in our brains when we see someone familiar. He learned that canines recognize familiar scents and can distinguish between the smell of a human, another dog and familiar objects.

When testing dogs in the MRI machine, researchers found that dogs have a reward response from the scent of someone they know. None of the other scents dogs were Dog-Animated-no-offerexposed to had the same response. Dogs know we are different from them, and our scent has a special place in their brain. They enjoy the company of humans and love the people closest to them, and it’s not because we feed them good food or reward them with tasty CANIDAE dog treats.

In his new study, Berns wanted to find out how dogs perceive us. Are they able to connect with just the human face, or is it nothing more than associating a human face with food? What he learned was that the response dogs have to a human face is hardwired in their DNA. You are special in the eyes of your dog, which explains why he’s always so happy to see you.

The second component is curiosity. Canines don’t really consider us part of their pack – but we are part of their family. The family unit of a wolf pack is made up of a father, mother, pups and older offspring not yet old enough to be on their own. They’re related to each other by blood, and share a deep affection for each other, working together as a family unit. A dog’s family (pack) can be one human, two or more humans, or humans and other family pets, and he may or may not be related to other canines in the family.

From the dog’s point of view, being separated from their owner is unnatural. The excited social greeting from your dog is part of a bonding ritual, but it’s also driven by curiosity to learn what you’ve been doing while you were away. By jumping up on you and attempting to lick your face, he’s trying to taste and smell all of the odors you’ve collected throughout your day in an effort to learn what you’ve been up to. Were you with other dogs? That’s an interesting smell. Did you bring back food?

Aside from the curiosity factor, there’s also a feeling a relief and joy when you return home. Dogs are social creatures and aren’t especially fond of spending time alone. Put yourself in your dog’s place. Imagine sitting alone for hours with nothing to do while you wait for someone to come home.

Because dogs evolved alongside humans, they were able to adapt and interact with us by learning signals we use to communicate; like following our pointing finger or gaze. dog excited dondyOne of the most effective and powerful adaptations of domestication has been the ability of dogs to be social. This sets canines apart from wolves because dogs are capable of not only interacting with us on a social level, but with other animals as well.

The greeting ritual for dogs is extremely important to them, and how your dog greets you is based on his individual personality and temperament. Your job is to teach him how you want to be greeted so you both can be comfortable saying hi to each other. His excited greeting is a compliment to you and his way of letting you know how much he missed you.

Top photo by kizzzbeth/Flickr
Bottom photo by Dondy Razon/Flickr

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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  1. I have a Shetland Sheepdog so I think you know he is ALWAYS excited when we return home 😉
    I disagree about dogs not viewing us as their “pack” I totally think they do. Dakota is beside himself when ANY of us (including our cat), are not all together.