Humans and dogs began co-evolving about 40,000 years ago. There was a mutually beneficial relationship where hunter-gatherer societies that allowed wolves to scavenge off of them were better able to ward off predators and obtain resources. Meanwhile, wolves that were living closely to hunter-gatherer societies benefitted from easier access to food and protection. This relationship continued, where a population of wolves self-domesticated with human groups while hunter-gatherer societies eventually began to settle and cultivate the land. This mutually beneficial relationship continues today between dogs and humans, with both receiving benefits from living with the other one. We have also integrated dogs into many aspects of our society, such as search and rescue, police work, and service work for people with disabilities.
Dogs have unique social intelligence compared to other animals, including their wild counterparts and even apes. Dog social intelligence rivals that of 2-3 year old human children. Dogs are able to read our body language and follow our cues. If you point or look at an object, they are able to follow our gesture and understand what we are communicating. Recent evidence shows that dogs even understand what we are saying and how we are saying it. Not only do they recognize familiar words such as “walk” and “vet” but the tone we use when we say certain words matters to our dogs also. They are able to pick out neutral words and know when we aren’t directly speaking to them. Their brains even process words in similar ways as our own brains which is thought to be a result of such close evolution between humans and dogs over many, many years.
There is evidence suggesting that humans and dogs feel love for each other, similar to how we love our own children. A study showed that when dogs and humans gaze at each other, they both experienced an increase in oxytocin, a hormone related to bonding. We experience oxytocin increases with our own human children, spouses, family members, and friends. When we feel intense love and protection for our dogs and refer to them as our “fur-babies,” it is not as crazy as you think! We actually do develop deep, biological connections with our dogs and luckily the feeling is mutual.