To dogs, the sight of another dog is much more exciting than the sight
of a human.
You may think your dog is excited at the sight of your face, but researchpublished Monday suggests that unfortunately, she probably isn’t.
The study, in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows that dogs aren’t wired tofocus on human faces. What does make their brains spark is the glimpse ofanother dog. The sight of a human? Not so much.
Through MRI scans of humans and dogs watching videos — of both humans and dogs— Hungarian scientists learned that while humans have a specialized brainregion that lights up when a face comes into view, dogs do not. Both dogs andhumans, however, do have a brain region that sparks when a member of the samespecies comes into view.
“Faces are central to human visual communication … and human brains are alsospecialized for faces,” study co-author Attila Andics, an animal behaviorresearcher at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, said in an email. But thatdoesn’t appear to be the case for man’s best friend.
Dogs do pay attention to human faces, Andics, said. “They read emotions fromfaces and they can recognize people from the face alone, but other bodilysignals seem to be similarly informative to them.”
In other words, dogs may notice our faces, and even the expressions on them,but they use all sorts of other information, such as body language and voicecues, to tell what we are up to. Humans, on the other hand, value most whatthey see on a face.
To see if humans and dogs processed faces the same way, Andics and hiscolleagues recruited 30 humans and 20 dogs who were family pets. In theexperiment, each human and each dog lay in an MRI machine while shown a seriesof two-second videos: a dog face, the back of a dog’s head, a human face andthe back of a human head. The order in which thoe videos were shown variedwith each run.
Getting a dog to lay still in a loud MRI scanner is a challenge in and ofitself.
“They go through a several months-long training,” Andics said. The dogs aretaught that “they cannot move during measurements, even a little.” He addedthat the “trained dogs are happy volunteers in these experiments, not forcedor restrained in any way. They can leave the scanner any time if they want.”
When they analyzed the brain scans, the researchers found visual areas of thehumans’ brains lit up far more when a human face was shown compared to theback of a head. Also human brains were more active when a video of a personplayed than one of a dog. When it came to the dogs, brain activity didn’tchange whether a face or the back of a head was viewed. When videos showed adog, the dogs’ brains were more active than when videos showed a human.
From an evolutionary standpoint, the study’s results make sense, said Dr.Carlo Siracusa, an associate professor of clinical behavior medicine anddirector of the animal behavior service at the University of PennsylvaniaSchool of Veterinary Medicine.
“Mother Nature will not invest in something that is not relevant to survival,either in dog-to-dog or even wolf-to-wolf interactions,” said Siracusa, whowas not involved with the new study. “They use other ways of communicatingsuch as ear position — which can be seen from the front and from behind. Theear position will tell about the mood of the dog. We humans don’t move ourears.”
Dogs also use chemical communication much more than humans do, he said. Thescent of another dog will reveal whether that dog might be of interest.
But dogs may have evolved to pay attention to human faces because they’ve alsoevolved to depend on humans, Siracusa said. “They try to understand fromfacial expressions what humans want,” he added. “How likely is it they aregoing to get something to eat rather than be punished. They are liketoddlers.”
Dr. Katherine Houpt also wasn’t surprised by the new findings. “We always lookat people’s faces, but dogs look at all of us,” said Houpt, a professoremeritus at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Dogs haveother ways of [evaluating] people.”
Experiments have shown that dogs will be less likely to go to a person who hasdemonstrated selfish behavior, such as refusing to help someone open a jar orshare some cookies, said Houpt, who was not involved with the Hungarian study.
But for those feeling sad about the findings, Houpt offered words ofreassurance: “Your dog loves all of you, not just your pretty face.”
Source: Linda Carroll USA NBC News
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