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Why Are Dogs Man's Best Friend?

Our dogs may not be the smartest animals in the world, but they seem to understand us like no other beings can. We’ve already talked about how their brains are similar to ours[link to Decoding the Canine Brain, but the tens of thousands of years of hanging out with humans has also given them a unique sense of human social cues, which is likely a big part of why we find them so endearing.

For example, dogs get the point of pointing. That may seem pretty basic, but if you’ve ever tried to point out something to a cat, you’ll notice they watch your finger instead of looking in the direction you’re indicating; even chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, genetically speaking, don’t understand pointing.

Dogs can also track human eye movement to look in a particular direction once you’ve made it clear that you’re talking to them. That is, when you speak to your dog and make eye contact, they will often look where you look next, another trait that has not been identified in other animals.

These are skills that human children typically develop between the ages of six months and 2 years, which may explain why some of us think of our dogs as children. This is especially true when they do things they’re not supposed to when they think we can’t see them – but this is just one more indicator that they understand the human perspective.

They relate to us on a social and emotional level in a way that feels like they know what we’re thinking. A study published in February 2015 found that dogs can read our facial expressions, having demonstrated the ability to identify happy or angry expressions in photos of humans. Some researchers theorize that dogs even have a certain level of empathy – and many people who have had a good cry with their dog might agree.

Sure, we may anthropomorphize our dogs, and they aren’t exactly like us. But as the research shows, dogs have a remarkable understanding of how we communicate. These natural similarities and connections allow us to form strong bonds with our canine companions, making them the perfect candidates for the title “man’s best friend.”


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