The pitter-patter of tiny feet is one of my favorite sounds to come home to at the end of a long day.
And I’m convinced that my dog, Izzie, is just as elated to see me as I am to see her.
But what’s she really thinking when I open the front door and our eyes meet? Is she simply excited for the dinner I’m about to feed her, or do we have a real bond?
To find out more, we spoke to canine behavioral researcher Julie Hecht and Duke University professor of cognitive neuroscience Brian Hare, who wrote the book “The Genius of Dogs,” and hosts a new podcast called DogSmarts.
Here are a few of the recent discoveries that Hecht, Hare, and other scientists have made about dogs:
- Why does my dog get so excited whenever I say the word ‘walk’?
Dogs, like dolphins, apes, and parrots, can learn a series of vocal commands or words. One dog, a border collie named Chaser, learned more than 1,000!
Researchers say Chaser used a process called “fast-mapping,” or inference, which is pretty similar to how human children learn language skills. Basically, it involves guessing the meaning of a word based on the object that is being used in conjunction with that word. So if you’re constantly saying “walk” and then fetching your dog’s leash and taking him outside, he may be able to infer that the word “walk” has something to do with the action of going for a walk.
2. Why does my dog yawn every time I do?
Just like people, dogs can “catch” yawns. A study in the journal Biology Letters says this “emotional contagion” is completely normal. More importantly, the researchers write, your dog catching your yawn is a sign of basic empathy.
Dogs are believed to empathize with us in other ways as well. A University of Helsinki study suggested that dogs can sense when their owners are angry and have even evolved to respond accordingly. Another study found that dogs respond in a similar way, physiologically and behaviorally, to people when they hear a human baby crying.
3. Why do dogs turn away from us when we try to hug them?
A psychologist who studies canine behavior found a disturbing trend in 250 photos of people hugging dogs — the dogs were not happy. How do we know? According to animal behavior researcher Julie Hecht, there are three common signs of stress in dogs: 1) Turning their heads away from the thing that’s bothering them; 2) Showing the whites of their eyes; and 3) Lowering or pinning back their ears. Most of the dogs in these photos were showing these signs.
Still, some dogs might tolerate a hug, especially if it comes from someone familiar. In other words, dogs have myriad ways of showing affection, but hugs may not be one of them. If your pup tends to shrug away from your embrace, try patting her head or scratching her tummy instead, advises Hecht.
Eames Yates / Business Insider