If you treat your dog like a small furry member of your human family, science is actually starting to prove that you may be more right about that choice than previously thought. Though they're obviously not humans, dogs have a lot more behavioral traits in common with us than we do with even some our closer genetic relations, like chimps. And a growing field of research over the past decade is teaching us about the motivations and brains behind our canine companions.
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One of the biggest reasons our pups have so adapted similar behaviors and neurological pathways that reflect our own human traits is because their species and ours are so deeply intertwined.
Here are just a few ways that dogs actually think and act more like humans than any other animal. So next time someone gets on your case about treating your fur baby like a human baby, you can point out all the reasons you're completely justified.
Dogs are constantly communicating with us.
From their physical cues to their distinct whines, dogs are constantly communicating with their human counterparts. Perhaps most interestingly, they even use eye contact to check in with us, making them the only non-primate in the animal kingdom to do so. Rather than using it as a signal of aggression or submission, eye contact for pups is used to connect and bond with their human. In fact, making eye contact and smiling with at your dog can actually increase the bond between you and your canine companion.
Dogs even understand human gestures like following your gaze and pointing in certain directions, which even our closest genetic matches don't do. Dogs not only understand that when you point they should follow where you're pointing, but they also know that often it means you want them to go get something and bring it back, which is an impressively complicated cue to pick up on.
Your dog seeks comfort from you when they're scared or anxious.
Just like human children and their parents, when dogs are nervous about something, they seek out their human parents for comfort. Other domesticated animals don't always have the same reaction, but dogs clearly know that you've got their back no matter what might be going down, and they prefer to seek out that security in their two-legged besties rather than in each other.
Dogs react to your scent.
Dogs, of course, recognize your scent when you're present. But studies have also shown that their favorite humans have such a special place in their heart (and their nose), that they prefer their smell to even that of other dogs. In fact, the memory of your smell actually stays in their brain for longer than simply while sniffing it, leaving them to have more positive reactions in their environment simply from thinking about their best friend — even without them being physically present.
Your dog recognizes and responds to your voice.
An interesting study with MRIs discovered that dogs recognize their family member's voices. Researchers claim that humans and dogs use the same region of the brain to process speech. Plus, dogs have a distinct neurological response to emotionally charged human sounds like laughing and crying.
Researcher believe dogs not only understand both verbal and non-verbal cues, but they also understand manifestations of basic human emotions. In short, they process communication and emotional cues extremely similarly to us humans.
Dogs feel genuine empathy.
You've probably heard before that yawns amongst humans are contagious. But researchers have actually found that dogs who watch their humans closely can also catch a yawn from them, proving they feel similar levels of empathy with us as we do with each other. And though we are often their main concern, their empathy doesn't just stop with humans. They can feel for others in their species and even other friends in the animal kingdom while actively showing signs of sympathy and comfort to attempt to cheer them up. In short, their hearts are as big and sweet as their big, sweet, adorable doggie eyes.
Your dog does things just to please you.
Though there are all sorts of reasons behind dogs picking up certain habits, it's not uncommon for a pup to start doing a certain physical action simply because it gets a positive response from a person. Just like training your dogs to respond to specific verbal cues with physical actions, sometimes you can accidentally train your dog to ham it up when you swoon at their adorable choices.