Carry on a conversation with your dog and you’ll notice just how tuned in he is to you. Watch his facial expressions as you mention something that he loves, such as a ride in the car, or a trip to the groomer. Dogs are smarter than we give them credit for being. So smart, in fact, that research says dogs are connected to owners in a way more powerful than originally thought.
One study was conducted in Helsinki, Finland in 2013. Researchers tested dogs to see if they were able to recognize an image of the face of their owner. Researchers tracked dog eye movement of 31 different dogs while pictures of both humans and dogs were placed before them on a screen. Some of the images were familiar to the dogs while other images were not.
Watching the dogs allowed researchers to determine that the dogs did in fact recognize familiar faces and that the dogs were more likely to watch a familiar face longer than an unfamiliar one.
When it came to other dogs, however, it was a different story. When a picture of a dog was presented to them the dogs in the study fixated on the face of a dog, regardless of whether or not the dog was familiar to them.
In another study, done in 2016, five Border Collies, a Labrador Retriever and a Golden Retriever each had brain activity measured using a functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI scanner while being shown faces on a screen. A Functional MRI measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow through non-invasive magnet based technology.
All seven dogs were trained to relax in a yoga pose called the
“Sphinx” so they would be comfortable while relaxing on a chin rest inside the MRI scanner. Once relaxed, the dogs were shown photos of 50 different people and 50 different objects while researchers took note of changes in blood flow within their brains.
The study showed that photos of people activated areas of a dogs’ temporal lobe. This region of the brain is associated with both facial recognition and perception. Further research indicated that brain regions associated with rewards and emotions were more active when dogs saw pictures of faces of people, but not objects.
In humans the area of the brain associated with facial recognition is also in fact, the temporal lobe. The same applies to the brains of both macaque monkeys and sheep.
Dogs are able to communicate and bond with people in ways that other animals cannot. Dogs are the only members of the Canidae family that are able to recognize people without the need for training. This means dogs know when we’re smiling and when we’re not. They are also able to tell the difference between faces, something that even primates aren’t able to do.
Dogs are more likely to seek out food from people they establish eye contact with. They are also more likely to interact with humans who are more open to giving attention, a sense they pick up on through body language.
We, as humans can harness the power of our dogs’ perception of the world that surrounds them and use it to train them in a positive, loving, manner. We no longer need to use intimidation to teach our dogs the things we want them to learn.
Dogs are highly intelligent sensitive creatures, focused on us, their owners. It’s up to us to treat them with the respect that they deserve when it comes to training and learning new things.
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