You may love your dogs' faces, but they don't particularly care for yours. Canines would rather look at other dogs, new research shows.
A mixed breed puppy on a couch in Santa Cruz, CA. Aylin Woodward / Business Insider, courtesy of M. Salazar
Dogs aren't wired to appreciate the beauty of your face, a new study shows.
People put a premium on faces in order to gather information and social cues - and have special brain areas that are specifically activated when we look at faces.
Dogs brains don't work this way: The researchers found that when they saw the back of a person's head opposite a person's face, dogs' brain activity did not change.
The study also found that dogs prefer other dogs and humans prefer other people.
Canines share some neurological similarities with humans: Recent research suggests that these pets understand human language just as much as humans.
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Many people love to crush their dogs' cozy faces while peering deep into the soulful eyes of their canines to try to understand what they want.
However, new research suggests that our four-legged friends don't face us like that. A study published Monday in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that dog brains are just as excited about our faces as they are about the back of their heads.
People rely on facial features to gather information, and we have a special area of our brain that is activated when we look at a face. However, the new study shows that dogs don't process human faces in the same way.
"They read emotions from faces and can recognize people from their faces alone, but other body signals seem similarly informative to them," Attila Andics, a dog behavior researcher at Eötvös Lorand University in Hungary and co-author of the study, told NBC News .
Andics' group also noted that dogs were more about seeing other dogs than seeing faces, people or others.
Dogs prefer to look at other dogs than faces
A group of dogs participating in an MRI study. Bunford, Hernández-Pérez et al., JNeurosci 2020
The researchers used a type of brain scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. fMRI can show how active different parts of the brain are by measuring where blood is flowing.
The researchers gave 20 dogs and 30 people an fMRI scan that presented participants with four different 2-second videos.
One clip showed a human face and another the back of a human's head. The last two videos showed a dog's face and the back of a dog's head.
Data from the scans showed that both humans and dogs prefer to look at members of their own species. The dogs' brains were more active when they saw another dog than when they saw a person. People's brains were also more active when they saw a person than a dog.
But what sets these pets' brains apart from their owners is how much they glow when presented with a face.
The dog's brain lit up equally whether they were looking at a face or the back of the head. In contrast, the human participants had brains that glowed like Christmas trees when presented with a face compared to when they saw the back of the head.
A yellow lab on the beach in Eastham, MA with author Aylin Woodward. Aylin Woodward / Business Insider
According to Carlo Siracusa, director of the Animal Behavior Service at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, dogs can rely on body language and other senses to gather information.
"They use other communication channels such as ear position - which can be seen from the front and back. The ear position tells us about the dog's mood. We humans don't move our ears," said Siracusa involved in the study, NBC said.
Dogs also have a scary sense of smell, which is between 10,000 and 100,000 more acute than humans.
This allows them to ingest pheromones that have been left behind by other dogs, which may give more information than a simple look in the face.
Bitches understand language as much as we do
That being said, there are aspects of a dog's brain that are wired in a similar way to ours.
An August study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that dogs understand verbal communication just as we do by analyzing sound and then meaning as separate aspects of human speech.
An Alaskan Malamute shakes hands with its owner. Shutterstock
When people hear someone speak, our brain divides the work of processing that communication between the left and right hemispheres. First, the right hemisphere focuses on analyzing the speaker's underlying tone, and then the left hemisphere processes the meaning of what we heard.
The researchers discovered in 2014 that the canine brains split the task of language processing in the same way, although scientists weren't sure in what order it happened.
However, the Scientific Reports study found that dogs understand sound first, and then in the same order as humans. The authors examined the brain activity of 12 dogs - six Border Collies, five Golden Retrievers, and one German Shepherd - using fMRI.
They let the dogs hear well-known words of praise such as "clever", "well done" and "that's it" as well as unknown words such as "as if" and "still" in both praising and neutral tones.
The data showed that the dogs processed "simpler, emotionally charged cues" like tone first and then processed "more complex, learned cues," Andics, who was also co-author of the August study, said in a press release.
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