Why the canine-human bond is so special

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Feb 29, 2016, 08.46 PM IST

wolf wars
Dogs beat even our closest relatives (chimpanzees and bonobos) when it comes to reading human emotions

Why do we like dogs? As I sit and ponder over this question, the comforting soft fur that I feel between my fingers, as I stroke my dog, seems to be all the answer I need. We all know the answer, without actually ever having to ask the question. A few smart people across the world are trying to provide some objective answers to this question and their findings are indeed very fascinating.

Dogs and humans go way back. The first records of dogs evolving from wolves date back to at least hundreds of thousands of years. In all that time, we have come to be hopelessly addicted to each other. A cat, for example, is a master of survival and will manage even without a human to latch on to. Dogs, however, relentlessly seek out humans. Even street dogs are seen hanging out at bakeries and meat shops, begging for food and, more fascinatingly, begging for attention.

The ancient bond

How did this come to be? Long, long ago, friendly wolves that were not as shy as their peers started visiting humans more frequently. Humans saw the benefit in having these friendly animals around. A bond started forging. The bond formed was so strong that it started altering both species. The human brain started relegating some of its tasks to dogs. There are studies that suggest that around the time this bond forged, the human brain got smaller, getting rid of some its ability to sniff and hear. The proto-dog’s brain also got smaller, having relinquished some of the intelligence work to humans.

This was a true symbiotic bond.

It was not just their ability to sniff out prey and intruders that attracted us to dogs. Wolves and proto-dogs have family structures very similar to humans. The mommy-daddy-children unit stays intact for very long, unlike other species where one or both parents leave off-springs as soon as they get a little independent. There are some theories that even suggest that the human family unit might have been modelled after the wolf family unit.

The other thing that attracts humans so much to dogs is the dog’s ability to facially emote. Unlike many other animals, dogs and wolves have several facial expressions that they use to communicate. While humans have grown to read and understand these expressions, what’s more fascinating is that dogs have gotten even better at reading our own expressions and body language. They know what we are feeling before we are able to articulate it. Basically, we don’t need to put much effort into communicating with each other. Dogs beat even our closest relatives (chimpanzees and bonobos), who cannot read us as well as dogs can.

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