Ever wonder what your dog is thinking when they stare at you?
Well research says they might be expressing their love for you! Find out what other evidence researchers found out in this article from CBS News.
Dogs are known to be particularly good at reading their owners moods and that they exhibit a trait known as gaze following – essentially following the actions of humans – much as an infant or child might do.
Duke University’s Evan MacLean and Brian Hare, in an article accompanying the Science study, said dogs have proven much more adept at reading human social cues than even chimpanzees or great apes.
“Inspired by developmental psychologists studying human infants, comparative psychologists began studying family dogs. It quickly became apparent that dogs have much more to tell us about cognition, and ourselves than they might have imagined,” they wrote. “This is particularly true when it comes to how dogs understand the social world. Even as puppies, dogs spontaneously respond to cooperative human gestures, such as pointing cues, to find hidden food or toy rewards.”
In a bid to bond with their new neighbors, MacLean said dogs might have come to recognize the importance of the gaze between parents and their children and then saw how that helped them build a similar relationship.
“One fun evolutionary scenario might be dogs find a way to basically hijack these parenting type responses,” MacLean said in a Science podcast. “Over time, dogs may have taken more and more sort of childlike and juvenile characteristics to further and further embed themselves into this parent-child kind of framework.”
Nicholas H. Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinical at Tufts University, questioned whether the gaze alone was the reason dogs and humans bonded thousands of years ago. He said it was more likely the juvenile characteristics exhibited by dogs won over mankind, noting that other interactions between human and dogs such as petting have also shown to result in elevated levels of oxytocin.
“The look is part of the package but it’s not the sole reason why we chose dogs,” he said.
But the bonding isn’t all the dogs’ doing.
MacLean said dog owners play their part, noting that one study found that participants responded very similarly when shown pictures of their dogs as they would their children. Owners are famous for treating their dogs like members of the family, doting on them, talking to them in child-like voices and even dressing them in special doggy outfits.
“There have been some fun studies showing that, indeed, we respond to our dogs quite a bit like human children,” MacLean said. “One of my favorite ones was a recent brain imaging study that looked at mothers who were being shown pictures either of their own child or somebody else’s child and their own dog or somebody else’s dog. What the researchers found in this study is that there were brain networks in mothers who responded very similarly when they saw pictures of their own child or their own dog but didn’t have that response from looking at someone else’s child or somebody else’s dog.”
MacLean said he felt the Japanese study reinforces the idea that the human-dog relationship is like a parent-child relationship and could help explain the biological mechanisms that are involved in the use of dogs in therapy to treat everything from autism to post-traumatic stress.
“If it turns out there are benefits of administering oxytocin for some of these disabilities, using assistance dogs may actually be a fairly natural way to stimulate the system,” he said. “There may be some sort of medicinal properties of our interaction with dogs that we could use.”