Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dogs and humans in sickness and health

I was watching a Nova series on the evolution and domestication of dogs and they spoke about facial communication and the ability of dogs to interpret gestures and facial expressions.  Dogs read emotions, which any dog owner knows, but it is interesting that they use the right side of the face first to read cues.  Humans do, too.  We are left biased in our gaze, drawing us naturally to the right side of a persons face....leading us (and dogs) to use the right side of the face first for reading emotion.

This is particularly fascinating given that it is the right side of my fact that was paralyzed.  This makes me wonder if people in general have a harder time reading me still, given that there are subtle lag times and differences on that side of my face.  And I wonder if it affects how Sweetie reads me.  She seems to think I'm mad at her lately.

I have to correct Greg sometimes in his interpretations of what I'm feeling or whether or not I'm angry about something. I am tired still a lot and CFIDS does not enhance people's social grace, so I chalked it up to poor communication on my part, but i think its very possible that i've lost more than i thought on the bells side of my face.  So it makes sense that Sweetie's been confused over time.  She has been worried about me at all of the appropriate times, so I still feel like she reads me better than most people.

So I have been a little nervous lately that she has been hanging very, very close to me.  It's been making me nervous.  I am afraid that she knows that either she or I am sick.

Researchers are finding similar interactions between dog and owner as human mother and newborn.  They have been looking at oxytocin as playing the same role between dogs/owners as moms/nursing infants....oxytocin levels rise in the blood of dog and owner after periods of petting and play.

If you have a dog you are less likely to have a heart attack and 3 to 4 times more likely to survive one.  But dogs began increasing our odds of survival even more directly thousands of years ago, when we were still hunter gatherers, by making humans better hunters.  This makes a lot sense to me.  After we adopted Sweetie from a shelter, I was seeing the woods differently at work...seeing tracks differently, as if she were with me.  I think that in a addition to assisting us with logistics in terms of hunting and herding, they help us heighten and hone our senses.

Like humans, wolves were social animals that hunted in daylight, which was not the case for many other species, making domestication a fairly natural and mutually beneficial outcome.  It turns out that dogs may think more like humans than any other species, including chimps, according to a cognitive psychologist featured in the special who is researching the responses of chimps and dogs to gestures such as pointing.  Dogs cue into social cues very naturally, noticing things as subtle as the direction of our gaze.  We may have evolved our eyes (almond shape, different amounts of white on each side when our gaze shifts) specifically for social communication.

So it seems like the things missing in my face may be too subtle for me to ever notice, but it is very possible that Sweetie does.

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