MRI of dog’s brains show that they see owners as family and prioritize the smell of humans over everything

Studies have shown that dogs display many behaviors associated with intelligence. They have advanced memory skills, and are able to read and react appropriately to human body language such as gesturing and pointing, and to understand human voice commands.
Thanks to recent developments in brain imaging technology, we are starting to see a better picture of what is going on inside dog’s brains. Not only do dogs seem to love us back, they actually see us as their family.

A recent neuroimaging study about odor processing in the dog brain. Animal cognition scientists at Emory University trained dogs to lie still in an MRI machine and used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to measure their neural responses to the smell of people and dogs, both familiar and unknown. Because dogs navigate the world through their noses, the way they process smell offers a lot of potential insight into social behavior.

The scientists found that dog owners’ smells triggered a region in the dog’s brain regarded as the “reward center”, this area of the brain is called the caudate nucleus. Of all the different smells to take in, dogs prioritized the hint of humans over anything or anyone else.

Studies suggest that dogs feel complex emotions, like jealousy and anticipation.

Among other surprising findings, the study revealed marked similarities in the way dog and human brains process emotionally laden vocal sounds. Researchers found that happy sounds in particular light up the auditory cortex in both species. This commonality speaks to the uniquely strong communication system underlying the dog-human bond.

In 2013, a study documented the learning and memory capabilities of a border collie, “Chaser”, who had learned the names and could associate by verbal command over 1,000 words at the time of its publishing. Chaser was documented as capable of learning the names of new objects “by exclusion”, and capable of linking nouns to verbs. It is argued that central to the understanding of the border collie’s remarkable accomplishments is the dog’s breeding background—collies bred for herding work are uniquely suited for intellectual tasks like word association which may require the dog to work “at a distance” from their human companions, and the study credits this dog’s selective breeding in addition to rigorous training for her intellectual prowess.

Using other research and behavioral studies on dogs, researchers have confirmed that dogs interact with their human caregivers in the same way babies do their parents. When dogs are scared or worried, they run to their owners, just as distressed toddlers make a beeline for their parents. This is in stark contrast to other domesticated animals. Dogs are also the only non-primate animals to look people in the eyes.