Why Are Dogs Here

Following the important subject of how dogs adapt to the human environment, we will look into the peculiarities of the human-dog interaction in this part. We shall now focus on the most recent findings in the study of animal cognition and behavior. Dogs’ talents are generally thought to be firmly based on certain generic canine intraspecies communication capabilities as well as a combination of phylogeny and ontogenetic interspecies communication skills. The latter ones are the result of social and cognitive growth as well as domestication (Huber, 2016). Both types of developmental characteristics, as well as dogs’ assimilation of the many tasks that humans assign them, have contributed to the success of dogs living among and with humans.

Effects of Domestication: New Skills or Special Sensitivity?

Through selective breeding, humans have been modifying the morphology, physiology, and behavior of dogs for thousands of years. The domestication of dogs began between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago, most likely when gray wolves started foraging near human settlements. Canines were the first domesticated animals. Dog specialists disagree on how much of an influence humans played in the following development, but gradually the bond grew stronger as humanity started using dogs for companionship, hunting, and security. 1

The relative contributions of the three different cognitive and communicative adaptations of the wolf, the dog, and the human companion (pet) are still up for debate, though. Furthermore, it is debatable if these many improvements have resulted in a new ability or rather a heightened sensitivity. To get around the oversimplified dichotomy of nature vs. nurture, we can also distinguish between construction and inflection in addition to phylogeny and ontogenetic paths (Heyes, 2003). Assuming that dogs have developed a specific sensitivity to human gestures, voice, and behavior as a phylogenetic inflection through human selection over many thousands of years would be one cautionary use of the multiple paths concept. This sensitivity is the outcome of a selection biasing the input rather than being a new cognitive or sensory mechanism.

By contrasting dogs and wolves, the Domestication Hypothesis has been sought for for empirical support. Many of the early comparisons have in fact discovered significant differences between domesticated forms and their wild ancestors (i.e., the closest wild-living relatives) in their capacities for social tolerance and attentiveness, as well as in how they communicate and cooperate with humans, for example by mimicking human gestures. In order to allow a potential mate to approach even around food, it has been suggested that dogs have been chosen for a tamer temperament and for lower fear and aggression. This, in turn, accounts for dogs’ stronger success than wolves in cooperative and communicative interactions with humans (Hare and Tomasello, 2005).

The Canine Collaboration Hypothesis contends that wolves’ high levels of social attention, tolerance, and presumably cooperativeness created a solid foundation for the development of dog-human cooperation during domestication. Additionally, wolves and humans have certain important traits in friendliness and cooperation, which likely aided in the domestication of dogs (Clutton-Brock, 1984; Schleidt, 1998). However, because of their history of domestication and the evolutionary baggage that their wild ancestors, the wolves, passed on to them, dogs are not just very sensitive to humans. They are who they are because they individually develop their exceptional sensitivity toward people at a personal, ontogenetic level.

Understanding Human Emotions: How Dogs Read Our Faces and Listen to Our Voices

Together, the research suggests that dogs learn about social interactions via their interactions with people, particularly from their facial expressions. They are able to identify and recall certain people. They have a good understanding of the things that these people pay attention to, are interested in, and plan to do next. They can distinguish between, independently pick up on, and classify different emotional expressions, and they incorporate data from vocalizations into their comprehension of people and their feelings. They combine emotions, facial expressions, and vocalizations to create multi-modal representations of people and their feelings.

Understanding Human Gestures: How Dogs Learn to Cooperate

These results demonstrate that dogs are perceptive to human gestures, are able to comprehend their meaning, and appear ready to assist. They interact with people as communicative partners and comprehend gestures as urgent instructions as well as, to some extent, as informative or referential clues. They consider their own (informed) knowledge when given (incorrect) directives, therefore they do not necessarily sacrifice their own perspective to that of humans. Dog breeds that have been developed for teamwork, in particular, are highly adept at picking up on cues and commands from humans. On the other hand, one-on-one training opportunities are crucial: for instance, shelter dogs obey human pointing gestures less successfully than companion dogs. Additionally, the dogs’ interpretation of human gestures is shaped by their history of reinforcement. If given the chance, dogs have been discovered to be outstanding behavior readers. They are quite skilled at picking up on both overt and subtle behavioral, gestural, verbal, and attentional cues, which is extremely useful for adjusting to life in the human environment. They appear to be sensitive to some human mental states in addition to their abilities to read behavior. For instance, they appear to be aware that humans have distinct visual views from their own.

Understanding Human Actions: How Dogs Learn Our Social Game

Together, these results demonstrate that dogs closely observe human activities as well as human emotions and gestures. They even overcopy, displaying a certain copying style that is thought to be a key component of accumulated human civilization. Another clear indication of how attentive dogs are to people, especially those with whom they have close ties, is when they exhibit overimitation. Dogs’ general attitudes toward people and their behavioral performance are greatly influenced by the bond, which is selective, and the quality of the bond. This is quite evident in how family pets engage with their owners. There are several explanations for why dogs watch their owners’ conduct so intently: they undoubtedly want to please them and are motivated to obey them. They might also recognize themselves as collaborators in our social interactions and players in our social game, though. The reasons for social engagement should be regarded as attachment and bonding. Dogs are trained in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes, including agility training, obedience training, and other types of special-purpose training, where a precise imitation of the trainer’s behavior is the norm. Humans make extensive use of the dogs’ readiness to understand their actions (Clark and Boyer, 1993).

Moral Emotions? From Biology to Philosophy

Dogs spend a lot of time interacting with people, for which they have exceptional understanding of human emotions, gestures, and actions. They interact with us as communicative partners, establish cooperative teams with us (such as aid, rescue, or herding dogs), have been assimilated into our culture, and are unmistakably a part of our social game. Human-dog relationships can be extremely strong and can resemble parent-infant attachment relationships. The idea that dogs are actually humans’ best friends appears to be based on this particular bond of deep affinity and understanding.

In addition to the skills we listed, dogs may possess additional social and cognitive skills, some of which we are still learning more about. Candidates for these abilities can include empathy, guilt, or jealousy.