Here at the PAWS office, we have dogs on the brain. In order for humans to excel at being dog parents we need to understand how our dog’s brains operate. Let’s explore the canine cranium!
First question, do dogs think? Dr. Jill Sackman, a clinician in behavioral medicine and senior medical director of BluePearl Veterinary Partners’ Michigan hospitals says, “Absolutely.” Dog cognition is similar to a three-year-old human, so there is some accuracy to the infamous bumper sticker, my dog is smarter than your honor student, as long as that honor student is in preschool.
Got a pup that likes to give you the cold shoulder? Do you ever wonder, does my dog even like me? Animal Cognition scientists at Emory University trained dogs to be still in an MRI machine and they measured a dog’s neural responses to different types of smells. Dogs navigate through their noses and the way they process smell offers insight into behavior. First of all, who’s a good boy!? Many of our dogs won’t stay still for more than a minute. Secondly, what did they find out? The scientists discovered that a dog owner’s scent actually sparked the most activation in the “reward center” of dog brains. Of all the smells to take in, dogs prioritized the smell of their humans over anything or anyone else. Fido prefers L’eau de YOU the most!
A Mutt’s Memory Lane
Fact, dogs do remember. Dogs who have gone through obedience training know and remember commands and hand signals. Dogs remember friend’s houses and routines. Do you always give your dog a treat after a walk? You’ll see that when you return home they’ll sit and wait for what comes next. But do dogs store memories in their brain like humans do? The short answer is no. Dogs have an associative memory which means dogs remember people, places, and experiences based on associations they have with them. They remember that you putting on shoes means WALK! But they won’t remember what the weather was like last time they walked. Have a pup that gets uneasy and scared in the waiting room at the vet? If they’ve had a negative experience, they won’t be able to remember what scared them, but they will associate the waiting room with fear.
Ever notice that your dog’s reaction to seeing you after being gone for an hour is similar to when you’ve been gone for a week? Dogs do remember people. But research shows that they don’t remember the last time they saw a particular person – they forget events within two minutes.
The Emotional Hound
Dogs are sensitive creatures, some more than others, just like people. A 2017 article in Psychology Today, says there is solid evidence from brain imaging studies that shows areas of dogs’ brains light up when they feel emotions that parallel those of humans. This means your pup feels similarly to how you feel when experiencing different emotions. While dogs have the same hormones and undergo the same chemical changes as humans when experiencing emotions, their range of emotions is different than ours. Because researchers have decided that a dog’s mind is roughly equivalent to that of a 3-year-old human, this decision holds true for mental abilities, including emotion. Like a toddler, dogs will have fewer kinds of emotions than an adult human. This chart shows a dog’s emotional range based on the human age emotions appear:
You may think that your dog is exhibiting shame when you put him in a silly costume, but actually its disgust. Sorry Pooch!
We hope you learned a little something about our tail wagger’s inner workings! We’ll be back in touch with a breakdown of the feline intellect soon.