Did you also know that dogs are as conscious as human children? Well this is not fiction; it is fact and is the conclusion of recent studies by neuroeconomics professor Gregory Burns when he analyzed this key area of the canine brain shared by dog and humans brains.

There have been other recognized studies that have demonstrated the richness of the canine inner life. They actually do express emotions, which should not be new news to anyone, as we have all witnessed wagging tails, tails between legs, etcetera, etcetera. Dogs also respond to each other with various degrees / forms of tail wagging.

(Did you know that dogs wag their tails to the right when they are happy and to the left when they are stressed or anxious)? Read more here.

We know that dogs can understand language. Dogs around the World respond to directions in whatever language is used to communicate with them. The very latest research from an experiment by lead researcher Attila Andics at the Hungarian Academy of Science’s “Eotvos Lorand” University in Budapest has now concluded that dogs can actually comprehend the underlying emotional tone of what is being said to them!

Some very happy looking dogs, eleven in total, were trained (bribed) on a generous diet of positive reinforcement to lie completely still for up to eight minutes in an MRI scanner. With headphones on! The headphones had the dual purpose of muffling the scanners noise as well as providing 200 individual sounds that were required for the experiment.

There were also twenty-two humans subject to exactly the same experimentation, which is how the comparisons between dog and human brains were arrived at. Eleven dogs, twenty-two humans and 200 sounds!

The sounds were used to “tickle” parts of the dog’s auditory cortex – the part of the brain responsible for processing acoustic information. Various sounds included environmental noises, (like car sounds and whistles, human non-word sounds, and dog vocalizations like barking and growling; and the humans were exposed to the exact same sounds.

So what happened when dog and human brains registered human voices?

The temporal pole in the temporal lobe of their brains lit up!

Until this experiment it was thought that this part of the brain only registered this activity (emotional responses) in humans. In fact scientists thought that this part of the brain was exclusive to humans and only human brains triggered emotional responses from this part of the brain. But it is now known that dogs possess a temporal pole and it becomes active as well. This is the first time scientists have observed this in a non-primate animal!

It was also observed that emotional human sounds like crying and laughing activated an area near the primary auditory cortex in both species; and emotionally charged dog vocalizations such as whimpering and barking caused similar reactions among all volunteers.

The results also showed that dogs reacted more strongly to canine sounds than human and also showed more interest in environmental noises. In fact 50% of their entire auditory cortex lit up when listening to these sounds as compared to just 3% in humans.

The study suggests that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners, however they are less “hardwired” to human sounds. It could also suggest that humans are “trained” or more accustomed to these sounds and selectively disregard them to a certain extent. (We don’t get as excited or nervous about them).

So this is proof positive that your emotional connection to your dog is an important part of your bond because this area of dog and human brains is so similar. While reaction to the sounds varied between humans and dogs it was still conclusive that there were reactions by both species to ALL sounds.

Interestingly in both humans and dogs there is a part of the brain that plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy like food, love and money. (Of course with dogs it is more food focused with a good dose of love as well).

So something that would be no surprise to dog lovers is that our furry friends exhibit a level of awareness / sentience comparable to that of a human child; and the fact that dog and human brains are so similar will in time force humans to reconsider the ways in which they are treated. As quoted by neuroeconomics – professor Gregory Burns – in a New York Times article, he says he’s left with the inescapable conclusion:

“that dogs are people too”.

The new study, the details of which now appear in Current Biology

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“growing with your best friend and companion”