Its The Dog

Learning through dogs

More than just friends

As I think we all know, dogs and humans have been together for some 15,000 years. Dogs are the first known domesticated species and no doubt the closest to us. This relationship has been studied, and it’s still not fully understood.

Have you ever laid in bed with your faithful furry companion and noticed your breathing is synchronized? Or perhaps you sigh at the same moment your dog just happens too. It’s relatively common for dogs to yawn when their people yawn, the cause isn’t known as yawns don’t appear to be contagious in canines like they are in humans.

One college has even stepped up to study these behaviours and others. At Duke University in their Biological Studies building they conduct experiments on dogs. No, not caged beagles that never get to see or smell the earth. The dogs they use are volunteers from the community. These dogs are tested on their interaction and interpretation of human expressions and gestures. One incredible fact they’ve discovered is that dogs will recognize human facial expressions much the same way people do; by focusing on the right side of the face. When compared to our closest living relatives; chimps and bonobos, dogs come out above.

Another fascinating discovery made by the University of Padua in Italy shows that dogs use facial recognition to identify their people in crowds. Until recently it’s been believed that dogs use scent to identify people. However their studies show that dogs may use facial recognition and possibly mannerisms to identify people. By setting dogs up to watch two people, one person they know and one they don’t. They walk back and forth several times, crossing paths, then exit out two separate doors. The dog is then released, the majority of the dogs would walk to the door the familiar person exited and would wait for them to return. When the test was repeated but bags were placed over the heads of the humans the dogs were more variable.

What sets these responses to human behavior apart is that dogs don’t use them when interacting with other dogs. These are innate skills dogs have developed to communicate with people. If only we were so devoted to dogs as they are to us.

If you’d like to participate in the Duke Canine Cognition Center you can sign up here http://evolutionaryanthropology.duke.edu/research/dogs/lab-alumni

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