Have you ever enjoyed a moment with your dog when you felt an understanding reached depths beyond the average canine and human bond? Alternatively, perhaps you are one of these staunch skeptics, fond of accusing dog owners of reading too much into interactions with their beloved pets. “You are anthropomorphizing!” we are told by such killjoys, the minute we try to put words to a dog’s facial expressions or adorable little resting sounds. Ongoing studies on animal emotions aim to shed some light on these discrepancies. According to Michael Corbalis’ article,”Our Dogs Can Read Our Minds:The New Neuroscience of Animal Brains and Understanding,” the study of canine emotions espouses out some of the most interesting data on the subject to date.
From the many stories of lost dogs returning to their homes from great distances, long after having been written off as gone or adopted, we know that the bond between dog and human is considerable. However, according to Corbalis’ article, because this bond could predate the initial domestication of canines. Corbalis mentions the theories of a dog enthusiast named Brian Hare. Mr. Hare states that before dogs were pets, there were wolves who were living off food left by humans and needed to become more comfortable with us to take advantage of our bounty. Since Corbalis’ article also tells us that wolves do not “respond” to humans “in the same way,” it seems the time dogs have spent domesticated has increased their communications capabilities. This has increased the understanding between our two species.
So are we wrong to read our language into the animated characteristics we see in our animals from day-to-day? It is a fascinating question. Corbalis speaks to this as a possible “discontinuity” of understanding between species. Perhaps science will soon crack the code to animal emotions, allowing us to understand these subtleties more clearly. Meanwhile, if you and your dog are enjoying the safety and joy of co-existence to a mutually beneficial moment, how each frames that moment seems more a matter of interest than need.