When I saw the advertisement for the NOVA special on dogs called Dogs Decoded, I just had to watch it! This special shows just how smart man’s best friend really is. If you have ever owned a dog, you have probably noticed that they seem to be tuned in to how we feel. In this special, scientists sought to figure out just how tuned in they really are. What they found was that dogs are actually able to read human emotions in a way that is similar to how humans assess each other’s emotions. Moreover, humans were able to interpret the meaning of various barks that dogs make. Can you decode the meaning of various barks in this interactive experiment?
This ability to communicate and interact with humans most likely served a mutually beneficial purpose for early humans as the animals helped the humans to hunt and the humans helped the animals to obtain food. This relationship developed further with domesticated dogs being able to serve special functions in human society, such as herding cattle or more recently as service animals.
This mutually beneficial relationship extends into our physiology. How good does it feel to come home after a bad day and be greeted by a dog that seems to care for you unconditionally? Scientists at Karolinska Institute in Sweden have shown that this mutually good feeling between the dog and their owner is associated with increased release of the hormone oxytocin, which is more commonly studied in the bonding relationship between a breastfeeding mother and her baby. Increased levels of this hormone have been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, so you could say that owning a dog is good for your health.
The video also shows experiments demonstrating just how smart our furry friends really are…especially one Border Collie in Austria, “Betsy”, who can identify more than 340 objects by their name. You MUST see this amazing dog!
So how did domestic dogs evolve? Well the evidence is in…but you will have to watch the video since I really don’t want to spoil it!