Our link with dogs more than familiarity

If they could, they would shrink and disappear at the first sign of anger, their ears lying tight against their heads, tails tucked and shoulders curling inward.

Sharna Johnson

Sharna Johnson

They open up to the sounds of laughter, on the other hand, tails wagging, ears perked up and searching for more.

There is no doubt dogs interpret the sounds humans make with excellent accuracy — they get us, and our moods.

Likewise, we know when they are angry, hurt or happy by the sounds they use to express themselves.

It’s no wonder.

After thousands of years living side-by-side we ought to at least be able to communicate on some level and certainly should be able to understand one another — it would be more odd if we didn’t.

There’s no doubt we do know each other, but the ability our pets have to understand our emotion and us theirs is more than just a matter of familiarity.

Acknowledging that in tens of thousands of years dogs and humans have certainly come to share social environments, a group of Hungarian scientist delved into the brains of both and found they had even more in common.

While exposing humans and dogs to the same vocal and non-vocal stimuli, the team of researchers conducted brain scans and discovered that both species have voice sensitive areas in their brains and that they respond similarly.

Because there is an evolutionary gap between dogs and humans, which the researchers say was close to 100 million years in the making, they concluded that some social information brain functions are shared between mammals.

Documented for the first time a little more than a decade ago, the voice area of the human brain becomes active when a human hears a voice, helping to interpret and identify sounds and their social and emotional contexts.

The recent study is reported to be the first to look for the same thing in non-humans and has been referred to as groundbreaking because of the implications.

The Hungarian team of researchers chose to use dogs for the study, not because they believed their brains to be more likely to process voice sounds, but because of most animals, they were easiest to train to sit still for MRI scans. But they believe based on their findings that the discovery is just the beginning and they will find many more animals have an area in the brain specially tasked with translating sounds into socially relatable communication.

In many ways the findings seem like confirmation of the obvious.

Of course any creature that communicates with other creatures in any way, or has a way to receive sounds, must have the ability to process those things to help them understand what they mean, and, as the center of processing, that would logically take place in the brain.

It is also not in question that there is a shared familiarity between dogs and humans when it comes to sounds; after all, an animal living deep within the jungle that has never been exposed to humans isn’t likely to understand what a chuckle or a doorbell is.

By the same token, however, a growl and an angry yell aren’t all that far apart, so there is bound to be crossover in understanding.

Then again, knowing a mountain exists is one thing, having a map of it is another thing altogether.

 

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com.