Does your dog “grin” when he or she pulls a fast one, like trotting out a pair of your dirty underwear? Do you wonder what they’re thinking when they gaze into your soul, rub their head on you or bring you the sock they destroyed?
Dog cognition research paints an emerging picture of something more complex than a manipulative and conditioned quest for food. But is it love?
In his latest book, “Survival of the Friendliest – from Dogs to Democracy,” Dr. Brian Hare suggests that not only are dogs the closest to humans in their capacity for what he calls “cooperative communication,” but that they’ve become wired that way through natural selection, not human intervention.
His theory is that selection for friendliness led to the evolution of a new cognition where dogs gained a social understanding of what humans meant and wanted in their gestures and commands over the course of their 40,000-year domestication.
Puppies are born ready to track with human intent, but our closest genetic animals – chimpanzees – aren’t, and neither are wolves.
Furthermore, research where foxes were bred for friendliness support his theory that selection for friendliness creates biological changes — including serotonin and corticosteroid levels – that influence pro-social behaviors such as barking for joy and tail wagging. These changes are also responsible for the ability to engage in the “oxytocin loop” – to stimulate the love drug by gazing into their owners’ eyes.
Other research plays into the Love Connection:
- Canine Cottages tracked heart rate data from dogs, recording an average heart rate of 67 bpm. But when the canines were told “I love you” by their owners, their heart rates skyrocketed 46% to 98 bpm.
- fMRI technology scanning dogs’ brains has shown that only familiar human scent activates a dogs’ caudate nucleus — the part of the brain that anticipates things we like or enjoy.
- Empathic yawning: 70% of dogs yawn when their owners yawn, which is a measure of empathy, the precursor to love.
- Research shows that dogs may be able to tell when their owners are being snubbed by someone else, and they in turn act coldly toward the people doing the dissing.
“We did not ‘create’ dogs. Dogs chose us,” Dr. Hare told the APA at a lecture. “You truly do love your dog, and your dog loves you.”