Special Bond between Dogs and Humans?

  • Thread starter WWGD
  • Start date

WWGD

Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,138
1,726
Hi All,
In a recent discussion ananimal rights activist claimed something to the effect that there is a special bond between humans and dogs, and that this is supported by science. I think she alleged there is fMri data to thus effect. I , not being an expert assumed dogs' behavior was the result of selective breeding and domesticationn; wild , undomesticated dogs do not ,afaik, display any such bond. Can anyone clarify the issue for me here, please?
 

FactChecker

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2018 Award
4,730
1,614
That sounds like a complicated subject. Even if you are right about the breeding, what mechanism do you believe causes that change? It might show up in scientific experiments. The results from wild animals would not necessarily contradict your friend's statements. It might just limit the statements to domesticated dogs. Even then, why would wild dogs be more amenable to such domestication?

PS. I have often wondered why domesticated dogs who have been treated well all their lives will still run from humans if they have escaped and are on the street.
 

Vanadium 50

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
22,601
4,879
I think you will need to define "special bond" if we are to have any productive discussion about it.
 

WWGD

Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,138
1,726
I think you will need to define "special bond" if we are to have any productive discussion about it.
Yes, but that is part of the point. I know essentially nothing on this so I am hoping someone who knows more than I will confirm either way or suggest an avenue of inquiry. The only specific point I remember was that the evidence of the bond was obtained through fMri imaging.
 
436
186
Here are two seemingly pertinent examples:

Stoeckel LE, Palley LS, Gollub RL, Niemi SM, Evins AE (2014) Patterns of Brain Activation when Mothers View Their Own Child and Dog: An fMRI Study. PLoS ONE 9(10): e107205. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107205
From the abstract: "Neural substrates underlying the human-pet relationship are largely unknown. We examined fMRI brain activation patterns as mothers viewed images of their own child and dog and an unfamiliar child and dog. There was a common network of brain regions involved in emotion, reward, affiliation, visual processing and social cognition when mothers viewed images of both their child and dog."

Gregory S.Berns, Andrew M.Brooks, MarkSpivak Scent of the familiar: An fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors.
Behavioural Processes Volume 110, January 2015, Pages 37-46

From the abstract: "We hypothesized that if dogs’ primary association to reward, whether it is based on food or social bonds, is to humans, then the human scents would activate the caudate more than the conspecific scents. Conversely, if the smell of conspecifics activated the caudate more than the smell of humans, dogs’ association to reward would be stronger to their fellow canines. Five scents were presented (self, familiar human, strange human, familiar dog, strange dog). While the olfactory bulb/peduncle was activated to a similar degree by all the scents, the caudate was activated maximally to the familiar human. Importantly, the scent of the familiar human was not the handler, meaning that the caudate response differentiated the scent in the absence of the person being present. The caudate activation suggested that not only did the dogs discriminate that scent from the others, they had a positive association with it. This speaks to the power of the dog's sense of smell, and it provides important clues about the importance of humans in dogs’ lives."

You may find further examples here on google scholar.



 

Ygggdrasil

Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2,853
1,896
I would take some of these findings with a grain of salt. fMRI studies have been notoriously unreliable as a research technique and subject to many false positive. For example, to demonstrate the ease of discovering false positives, researches placed a dead salmon from the supermarket into an fMRI scanner and, using the same analysis techniques used in many published papers, found signs of activity in certain regions of the brain when showing the salmon pictures of human faces. Furthermore, fMRI is a very indirect measure of brain activity, measuring things like increased blood flow or increased metabolic activity in different areas of the brain. To what extent these observables correlate with the underlying activity of neurons is still unclear.

Here's a nice piece from a few years ago highlighting some of the issues with fMRI and other similar brain scans:
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/controversial-science-of-brain-imaging/
 

FactChecker

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2018 Award
4,730
1,614
The research is about the human reactions to dogs, not the other way around. There might be a similar reaction to Muppet characters.
 

WWGD

Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,138
1,726
EDIT I invited the woman who made the claims to address @Ygggdrasil and anyone else's post. It seems she is refusing to do so EDIT: She did not. . I think she referred to Dr Beard ( I think) is the pre-eminent scientist in his area, etc.
 
Last edited:
1,211
589
In a recent discussion ananimal rights activist claimed something to the effect that there is a special bond between humans and dogs, and that this is supported by science.
It is usually a bad idea to discuss science with an activist.

Regarding dogs, we have a few thousand years of common history with them. It would be quite unscientific to deny the possibility that such relationship will mean some kind of selection mechanism for both party: the involvement of genetics//evolution is very likely. Unfortunately, this will be about behavior, especially about social behavior.
Genetics, history and social behavior is a very difficult mix to study, so I doubt you will be able to find anything really solid.
 
Last edited:

jim mcnamara

Mentor
3,438
1,635
I do not believe there is much we can do with this topic and keep it scientific. It does have merit, so let's try moving it to General Discussion.
 

fresh_42

Mentor
Insights Author
2018 Award
10,048
6,789
Hi All,
In a recent discussion ananimal rights activist claimed something to the effect that there is a special bond between humans and dogs, and that this is supported by science. I think she alleged there is fMri data to thus effect. I , not being an expert assumed dogs' behavior was the result of selective breeding and domesticationn; wild , undomesticated dogs do not ,afaik, display any such bond. Can anyone clarify the issue for me here, please?
I'm not sure if this is right. I've seen wild seals coming to divers and play with them. I think there is a predisposition predestination of the Canine to accompany humans. Of course the dogs nowadays are designer models of thousands of years of domestication and breed. I certainly wouldn't meet a wolf like I meet a dog, but I think there is something which enabled domestication, probably the hierarchy.
 
Last edited:
436
186
. I think there is a predestination of the Canine to accompany humans.
Did you mean predisposition rather than predestination? The latter smacks of teleology.
 

Klystron

Gold Member
292
305
I read a paleontology/archeology book (not a textbook. used reviewed data and charts. sorry, no citation) discussing digs at settlements and ancient camping sites that theorized dogs were attracted to humans for leftovers that humans rarely ate and other benefits such as warmth and protection from other predators. Essentially, dogs selected humans not unlike a stray cat selects a human for attention.

As for feral or stray animals running from humans, it could be a reaction to height. In the story The Gods Must be Crazy the little 'Tkung children protect themselves from a predator by lifting an object over their heads and facing the threat to appear taller defeating the attack.
 
392
202
Random anecdotal things I've heard reported, for which I can provide no specific citations. However, I'll make an attempt to do so in a bit, and update this post with any that I find.
1. Dogs understand finger-pointing. This is very unusual. I think I heard that studies show that our fellow apes, e.g. chimpanzees, do not.
2. There is evidence (I have no idea how you would establish this) that the original wolves who became companions to humans, were volunteers. They domesticated themselves.
3. Dogs are better adapted to human diet than wolves are.
4. Personal observation: humans seem to universally recognize canine expressions, such as being able to tell when a dog is worried, frightened, happy, angry. But those expressions are not the same facial expressions as humans expressing the same emotions, are they? Is this just something that those of us who've hung around a lot of dogs learn to do, or is it instinctive?
 
Last edited:
1,211
589
probably the hierarchy.
Many animals around us has hierarchy. I think (this translates as 'speculate') this match was rather made up by the fact that both party lived in a society which was based on cooperation. Both party had 'wires' for this already.
Cats, for example are also living in a kind of society (with hierarchy) but they are still lone hunters. They can keep company and keep mice in order but where are the 'working cats'?

Is this just something that those of us who've hung around a lot of dogs learn to do, or is it instinctive?
I think (also speculation) some of it might be 'wired' (I dont like the term 'instinctive', since it has a different, well defined meaning already). Dogs and humans are living together for very long time already, it might be expected that evolution grinded us together at some level.
Difficult topic to study, full of possible 'human errors'.
 
32,384
4,148
4. Personal observation: humans seem to universally recognize to canine expressions, such as being able to tell when a dog is worried, frightened, happy, angry. But those expressions are not the same facial expressions as humans expressing the same emotions, are they?
Regarding facial expressions on dogs, for a long time I wasn't sure whether I was anthropomorphizing their facial expressions, and possibly mistranslating how they felt based on those expressions. After spending a lot of time with two dogs over the past 15 years, I've decided that when they are happy, it shows on their faces with a big grin and eyes lit up. Similarly, their expressions are easy to read when they're worried and undergoing other emotions.
 
392
202
Regarding facial expressions on dogs, for a long time I wasn't sure whether I was anthropomorphizing their facial expressions, and possibly mistranslating how they felt based on those expressions. After spending a lot of time with two dogs over the past 15 years, I've decided that when they are happy, it shows on their faces with a big grin and eyes lit up. Similarly, their expressions are easy to read when they're worried and undergoing other emotions.
I'm pretty sure it's not just the face we're reading, but the attitude of the tail, the ears, the entire body. I know instantly if a dog is approachable and friendly or not, because the dog itself is telling me with all of those things.
I would guess that's a learned thing on my part. But it goes back to earliest childhood so I can't remember learning it.
 

BillTre

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2018 Award
1,034
1,528
I would not say that humans can universally recognize canine expressions indicative of their underlying expressions.
I have seen too many examples of humans getting things wrong in this regard or disagreeing among themselves (in which case someone has to be wrong, so it is therefore not a universal recognition of their expressions and underlying emotions.
I do think it is common, but certainly not universal.

Extended interactions between dog and human are certainly common which could account for this common understanding.
People could probably do the same thing with cats, pet birds, and other pet animals.
 
Hello. I’m the “activist” in question here. I’m also someone who spent ~8 years interrogating physicians on medical science early in her career, but that’s neither here nor there…

I should mention, I did send OP links to a sampling of canine cognition research which is illuminating on the subject of the human-dog bond. Curiously, and for reasons only he can explain, OP appears to have dismissed that data out of hand. (perhaps not all that surprising, given that he chose this forum as his go-to source for information as opposed to, say, a simple Pubmed search?)

Having assumed I fulfilled my duty with that proffer, I was to loathe to bother in this forum. That is, until I skimmed through some of the comments posted thus far and was taken aback by the paucity of helpful and/or credible information. Alas, I’ll keep it brief.

The modern dog is a creature that is specially adapted to live alongside of us, hence the “human-dog bond”. This is after all, a species that came into existence by ingratiating itself to humans some 30,000 years ago. Over the millennia that followed, we then selected for favored traits to create the best hunting, herding and guarding companions (our methods were crude at best throughout this period; specific dog breeds are only a very recent phenomenon, actually).

The result is an animal today that is specially attuned to interpret our facial expressions, our emotions (dogs are the only animal, outside of humans, shown to have this ability; primates have the capacity among other primates but not across species), our voices, our speech, our gestures (better than chimps, in fact), and even our intent to some degree. Dogs show preference for their owners over other dogs and even food in some studies, and they instinctively run toward humans when anxious or fearful, whereas cats and horses are inclined to run away under stressful conditions. When dogs stare into our eyes, it releases the same hormone in our brain -- and theirs -- that bonds mothers to infants (by contrast, wolves will interpret a human stare as aggressive and avoid eye contact). It’s all there in the scientific literature, and more.

But hey, why give any stock to the words of a mere “activist” on an anonymous forum. Instead, I urge you to consider what some of the experts themselves have to say about the unique relationship (then visit Pubmed):

Dr. Brian Hare, author of The Genius of Dogs and founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center:

“Dogs show an affiliation toward humans that is unlike any other in the animal kingdom. They prefer humans to their own species and can behave like human infants toward their parents.”

Dr. Gregory Berns, author of How Dogs Love Us and head of The Dog Project at Emory University:

“It’s not the case that they see us as ‘part of their pack as dogs,’ they know that we’re something different— there’s a special place in the brain just for us. What we’re finding with the imaging work is that dogs love their humans—and not just for food. They love the company of humans simply for its own sake.”

“All the things that we’ve done with the brain imaging—where we present certain things to the dogs and map their reward responses—we see analogous brain responses in humans. Seeing a person that’s a friend or someone you like, these feelings are exactly analogous to what a dog experiences.”

“Our findings show that dogs have an innate way to process faces in their brains, a quality that has previously only been well-documented in humans and other primates.”

Dr. Attila Andics, neuroscientist at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary: “Dogs process both what we say and how we say it in a way which is amazingly similar to how human brains do.”

Dr. Luis Concha, National Autonomous University of Mexico's Institute of Neurobiology: “Our study provides evidence that human faces are truly special for dogs, as it involves particular brain activity. To dogs, the human face is no ordinary thing.”

Dr. József Topál, Hungarian Academy of Sciences: “Our findings reveal that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants.”

Dr. Ludwig Huber, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna's Messerli Research Institute: “Our study demonstrates that dogs can distinguish angry and happy expressions in humans, they can tell that these two expressions have different meanings, and they can do this not only for people they know well, but even for faces they have never seen before.”

…I think I’ve made my point.
 
I invited the woman who made the claims to address @Ygggdrasil and anyone else's post. It seems she is refusing to do so, with a sort of appeal to authority . supposedly Dr Beard ( I think) is the pre-eminent scientist in his area, etc. I ultimately believe that the vehemence with which anyone expresses their views should be proportional to her understanding and the strength/support of the evidence supporting it.
Invitation accepted (though I would've assumed you'd find the references to 20 odd studies I sent you sufficient). See below. ...Also you don't seem to understand the "appeal to authority" fallacy. Wow!
 

FactChecker

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2018 Award
4,730
1,614
@activist in the know , I am not sure why you seem to have gotten a negative impression of this forum. We do our best and appreciate good inputs. You could have posted your reference links here without the apparent hostility.
 

WWGD

Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,138
1,726
Invitation accepted (though I would've assumed you'd find the references to 20 odd studies I sent you sufficient). See below. ...Also you don't seem to understand the "appeal to authority" fallacy. Wow!
And you don't understand the practical use of "Sort of" to avoid extremely long explanations. Make your case then.
 

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving

Hot Threads

Top