It’s a natural occurrence for a dog to get excited when someone walks in the door, but do canines really recognize your face, or do they just recognize your voice, smell, and demeanor?
Ask any pet lover and they will tell you the best feeling in the world is your pup freaking out and licking your face a million times when you return home. Well, now it seems science has an answer to why your dog gets so happy to see YOU.
The Study: What do dogs see when you walk in the door?
A recent study was conducted at the Emory University in which six dogs were trained to remain still without applying any sedation or restraint. The dogs were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This enabled the scientist to watch the dog’s brain respond to stimuli in real time.
In the study, the dogs were shown videos of humans, other dogs and objects. Guess what? The dogs were able to process and recognize faces belonging to living creatures. This confirms the fact that your dog’s pure excitement, when you enter the door has to do with recognizing your face specifically.
Recent research also shows that facial focus isn’t limited to primates. Dogs are wired to recognize faces. In fact, dogs have long been known to show a behavioral response to faces.
The recent study is more important since it shows that dogs have a specific spot in their brains that reacts to faces. The team at Emory University observed that a region in the dog’s temporal lobes lit up (significantly more) in response to faces of dogs and people than compared to objects.
Gregory Berns, neuroscientist at the Emory University said the team is focusing on an area of the brain that is responsible (in humans and primates) to respond to faces, to see if the dogs have the same thing. Previous research has shown that dogs go through the same range of emotions as a human toddler. They view their owners exactly in the same fashion as toddlers view their parents.
The main focus of Berns and the research team was to see if the dogs really connect with faces themselves. The team wanted to check if the response was generated because of the expectation of food. If that is the case then the response, especially to the human face, would be in the reward system of the brain. However, that’s not what the team found. Instead, the response to faces was more in the visual system. This suggests it’s hard wired or innate.
Dogs have been the companion to humans for at least more than 15,000 years and the question that has left the research team puzzled is that whether this preference for face has developed as a virtue of living with humans for over millennia or is it a trait that is shared by all social creatures?
Berns believes that the later is true. The study did not provide much information into whether dogs reacted any differently to the face of their owners compared to strangers. However regardless of the test results, pretty much any dog owner knows that their dog can sense their feelings and will actively do things to cheer up their owner. Even if they scratch you and whip you with their tails, they are just excited to see you and your face.
Reader – Did you know your dog could recognize your face?