Puppy Love: Science Gives A Glimpse Of What Dogs Really Think

You probably already believe that your dog loves you — it’s evident from the way your dog reacts as if your arrival home is the best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world, and the way your dog always chooses your shoes as the most preferable shoes to chew on. But beyond those clues, you could never be quite certain what dogs really think.

But science now confirms that puppy love is real.

And this puppy love goes even deeper than just affection and loyalty. Scientists say that dogs actually view their owners as family. While humans have been relying on dogs for companionship and protection for around 30,000 years, dogs have been relying on humans for exactly the same.

According to Brain Mic, the direct brain-based and scientific evidence to prove that dogs love their humans was found in a recent study using neuroimaging to study odor processing in the canine brain. Using dogs trained to lie very still in an MRI machine, animal cognition scientists at Emory University used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure the response in a dog’s brain to the smell of people and other dogs, both familiar and unfamiliar.

And if smelling doesn’t seem to equate love, consider this: Dogs use their sense of smell to filter everything. It’s the way dogs move through the world, and the sense they rely on the most. Because of that, scientists say that the way dogs process smell actually gives a great insight into their social behavior.

And of all the smells the dogs smelled during the MRI, it was only the scent of the dogs’ owners that triggered activity in the caudate nucleus of the brain — otherwise known as the “reward center.” This indicates that, of all the many smells dogs constantly process through their ultra-sensitive noses, dogs love even the hint of their humans’ scent above anything and anyone else.

The results of the study focusing on smell preferences in dogs seem to support other canine neuroimaging research, such as the study involving canine brain activity in response to different human and dog sounds. The study showed that dogs, just like their human counterparts, show “brain sensitivity to vocal cues of emotional valence.” In other words, there are remarkable similarities to the way dog and human brains react to emotional sounds, whether happy or sad.

So when it seems as though your dog is sympathizing — or rejoicing — with you, chances are, you are right. As the report from Brain Mic says, “Dogs don’t just seem to pick up on our subtle mood changes — they are actually physically wired to pick up on them.”

In addition to neuroimaging, research in canine behavior also supports the idea that dogs reciprocate love in a way that many other domesticated animals do not or cannot. Dogs are often seen to interact with their owners the same way babies interact with parents. For example, when a dog becomes scared, they run directly to their owner, just like a toddler. Frightened cats or horses, on the other hand, react to fear by running away rather than seeking safety with their caregiver.

In addition to that, dogs are the only non-primate animal that looks people in the eyes. It is, according to researchers, a unique behavior between dogs and humans, meaning that dogs will actively strive to make eye contact with their human caregivers, but not their biological parents.

So, next time your puppy soils the floor in that unique dog-mixture of glee and embarrassment, just tell yourself you know exactly what your dog really thinks, and that it’s simply their way of showing you just how much they love you — because they really, really do.

For more on how amazing dogs can be, read about how one dog hitched a ride on an ambulance to stay close to his owner. Or see which dog breed made the top pick for man’s best friend here.

[Image via Soda Pop]