There is nothing better in the world than coming home to find my little dog waiting for me. She is SO EXCITED to see me every single time I disappear for a few hours, and it just fills my heart with so much puppy love. Even though she’s barely 8 pounds, she will knock me down to the ground, lick my face all over, and wag her tail as if to say, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN I MISSED YOU SO MUCH.” Seeing as how this happens every single time I leave and return — and it probably happens with you and your four-legged friend, too — what’s the deal? Why is my pup so excited to see me when I come home?
Well, science might have an answer for us. There are two factors for this: 1) how dogs have evolved over the years from wolves; and 2) dog curiosity. It’s a thing.
Way before dogs were our household friends, they were wolves roaming out in the wild. Wolves back then, and still today, greet each other by licking their faces. As Neuroscientist Gregory Berns explained to io9, licking faces is a social greeting (like how humans shake hands) and by licking the face, wolves can also figure out if any other wolves have brought dinner home that night.
Berns has also done a lot of research to figure out how dogs see humans. As in, do they see us as members of their “wolf pack” or as a completely different species? Berns discovered, through scent tests, that dogs could identify their own humans’ familiar scent, and how that triggered a certain response.
“No other scent did that, not even that of a familiar dog,” Berns explained, “It’s not the case that they see us as ‘part of their pack as dogs,’ they know that we’re something different— there’s a special place in the brain just for us. What we’re finding with the imaging work is that dogs love their humans—and not just for food. They love the company of humans simply for its own sake.”
Berns also mentions that, while humans can think in abstract concepts, dogs cannot. So when a dog sees us, they’re either happy or they’re sad; there’s no in-between. And if we’ve been gone from the house all day, the dog has probably gotten bored without anything to do and any company. The second we walk through the door, the dog is happy to see us, but also wants to know where we’ve been. That’s why there’s a lot of smelling and face licking, because the dog needs to know if we’ve been with other dogs, and also if we’ve brought home food for them.
There’s still a lot of research left to be done with this, but one thing is for certain: Coming home to an excited dog is the best. Walking through that door signifies that you’re going to greet them, and play a little bit. Whether you’re playtime is going for a walk or binging Netflix is up to you. The dog’s just glad you’re home.
(Image via here)