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Dogs are special creatures – they have the ability to guide blind people through crowded streets, herd sheep, fetch balls and even detect cancer. But do you know how their minds work? Read on to learn more.
Can dogs think?
The level of cognition in dogs is comparable to that of a three year old human being. They can tell when we are trying to point to an object. They can tell when their bowl has less food. They can respond to voices that they recognize and are very good at telling friend from foe. As a matter of fact, there a lot of people who believe that dogs train their owners into feeding them at the right time.
There is no denying that there is a lot of thought going on in their heads. They can make associations and respond to stimuli. However, their exact thinking mechanism is still shrouded in mystery. Just like it is not possible for us to read the thought of another human being, it is not possible for us to exactly speculate what a dog is thinking.
What does the brain of a dog look like?
The brain structures of mammals are very similar. The lobes, hemispheres and other brain parts have similar names and functions. However, in dogs, the part of their brain that deals with smell show that they have highly sensitive noses, more than those of ferrets and cats.
Dogs use a larger portion of their brain for analyzing smells. Their brains associate smells with their corresponding memories. This is the reason they are used to sniff for drugs and bombs.
How are their brains different from human brains?
Apart from their structural similarity, fMRI studies have demonstrated that the same brain sections light up when we are exposed to different stimuli. Men process memories, fear and spatial awareness the same way dogs do. Some of their cognitive skills are also clumped together, just like the brains of humans.
That is true of dogs too. Some of their skillsets come in a package. If your dog is accurate and fast with one task, he has the capacity to be accurate and fast with another. This means that the hereditary component of cognition and intelligence is something dogs share with humans.
Some of the older dogs develop a medical condition that has a lot in common with Alzheimer’s disease. Since their brains are similar to ours, dogs have routinely been used to test the impact of drugs and nutrition on the aging process of the brain.
However, we are not exactly similar. Compared to our brains, the brains of dogs are smaller relative to the size of their body. There are more folds in our brain and hence more surface area. Our prefrontal cortex is also more developed than that of a dog. However, research papers and MRIs can only tell us so much. Until dogs find a way to communicate with us in a way we understand, there is a lot we will never know.