Man’s best friend-science tells us that dogs and humans began living together as long as 40,000 years ago. That is truly a long standing relationship! Dogs have become a significant part of our daily lives and most of us consider them family. The United States has the distinction of having the most dogs worldwide with about 44% of Americans being dog owners. In addition, over 72 billion dollars is spent each year on our pets, so there is no doubt that we love our pets-but can we be really know if they love us back? It turns out that-yes-we can.
How Do We Really Know Dogs Love Us?
Scientists from Emory University performed a study of 12 dogs who were trained to sit very still while undergoing an MRI of their brains. While in the scanner, the dogs were provided different scent sources to sniff from: a) a familiar human (someone in the dog’s household) b) an unfamiliar human c) a familiar dog and d) an unfamiliar dog. The researchers then determined which parts of the brain were most activated with each scent. The findings clearly showed that the pleasure centers of the brain were activated most significantly with the familiar human scents. The researchers were able to conclude that dogs not only recognized their “people” but have anticipation of good things when they see (or smell) their human.
This response to a familiar human was even stronger than with a familiar dog! However, you may think, well they are anticipating food or treats, that is not really “love”. Another study looked at this very question and found that on average, dogs responded equally to the possibility of treats versus praise from their human. There were some individual differences with some dogs, but overall, there was no significant difference in the dogs’ response to the potential of scoring food or getting some love from their person.