You’re not imagining it.
Your dog really does understand what you’re feeling. Dogs can’t read our minds,
no, but when it often seems like they do, it’s because of a special connection
between our two species that’s increasingly well understood. Dogs don’t just
seem attuned to our emotions. They are. Eye-track studies of dogs have shown
that they read human faces for emotional cues in the same way we ourselves do.
No other species do this, not even chimps. Scientists speculate that this skill
has evolved in dogs to enable them to communicate with us on an emotional
level. To better understand us. Which makes sense. When you rely on humans for
your survival, there’s obvious biological advantage to reading their moods for
signs of intentions, impending danger, etc.
The same goes for
barking. Wolves rarely bark, and when they do, it’s to warn other pack members.
Dogs, on the other hand, possess an impressive vocal repertoire that spans
yowls, yelps, grumbles, whines, acoustic sighs, and many types of barks,
suggesting another trait dogs may have developed exclusively to strengthen
their teamwork with humans. This goes beyond utilitarian purposes like herding
and protecting our livestock. Arguably, dogs have learned to speak a second
language specifically to support their bond with us.
And the connection goes
both ways: We’ve become skilled interpreters of barks. In experiments in which
researchers played recordings of dog barks to dog guardians, they were capable
of distinguishing between request barking, anxious barking, territorial
barking, and other kinds, without seeing the dog’s body language or the
situation. We use the tonality, frequency, and interval of barks to decode the
So, the science backs us
up: We do indeed have a special bond with dogs. It’s so strong that we mostly
take it for granted and lump dogs in with the rest of the family—because they are
family. But dogs are not human. They are remarkable, adaptive creatures that
have evolved in partnership with us in a way no other species have. And that’s