Image by Ingrid0804 via Flickr
Michelle Marchante | Contributing Writer
Ever heard the saying, “Man’s best friend?” It’s a no-brainer that dogs are the best companions a human can have, sometimes even better than another human being. The question, though, is why? How can a creature that according to science and religion is unable to understand us, and yet be a better companion than another human?
The idea that animals, like dogs, while indeed having thoughts and emotions of their own, are not capable of rational thinking like humans has existed for a long, long time. Dog owners everywhere, I’m sure, would argue against that idea, claiming that not only do their pets understand them, but that they do indeed know how they feel.
If you’re a person of science though, you’re not satisfied with the here say people claim, of the “proof” they show. You want to investigate, study, and actually come to a conclusion. While scientists are still researching this matter, the results of their findings so far seem to be giving reason to the dog owners.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig began to study Rico, a border collie, and were surprised to discover that Rico could learn new words as quickly as a toddler. The scientists then discovered another collie, Betsy, who knew more than 300 words.
During an interview with National Geographic, Juliane Kaminski, a cognitive psychologist, who studied Rico and Betsy, said, “Dogs’ understanding of human forms of communication is something new that has evolved. It is something that’s developed in them because of their long association with humans,” Kaminski said.
Dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago, which according to the scientific community, is a relatively short time to learn language skills. So exactly how similar are their skills compared to humans?
During Betsy’s study, Kaminski had Betsy’s owner show Betsy colored photographs with an image of a toy she had never seen before and asked her to find it. Betsy sometimes brought the actual object or a copy of the exact photograph to her owner, leading Kaminski to conclude that Betsy was capable of finding an object by a picture, a skill that is considered an abstract human skill. This gave evidence that dogs might actually be able to think like humans.
The community still hasn’t accepted the notion that dogs are capable of thinking like humans, but new studies continue to prove them wrong.
A study conducted in 2013 suggested that dogs were “emotionally connected” to their owners, as during the experiment, dogs tended to yawn right after their owner did. While this study sounds strange, it has a great significance, matching a study done in 2012 that showed people yawned more in response when people they cared about yawned.
Elisabetta Palagi, of the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies in Rome, believes that this study, “Once more demonstrates that dogs are capable of empathic abilities towards humans.”
This year, 11 dogs were tested to see if they were able to tell the difference between happy and angry human facial expressions. Emotions show on all parts of the human face, not just the mouth, so if dogs are truly able to spot an emotion, they should be able to do so no matter what part of the face they look at.
The results were favorable as the dogs were able to distinguish between the two emotions. Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist who specializes in canines at the University of Colorado at Boulder, did not find this discovery surprising.
“People and dogs have forged an incredibly close connection over thousands of years together. Along the way, dogs have been bred for certain traits, and one of the traits would be the ability to read us.”
Now scientists are curious to discover if this “ability” is due to extreme human interaction throughout the years or if dogs, wolves and other related animals with minimal or nonexistent human interaction would yield the same results.
Sounds like the scientific community is just scared to admit that they were wrong about their long-standing belief that animals were not capable of rational thinking and feeling empathy. But that’s alright because we dog owners know the truth.