This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Investigating the Dog-Human Social Bond via Behavioral and fMRI Methodologies




Thompkins, Andrea

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation




Domestic dogs have been bred into a close relationship with humans, and it is one in which they are often considered family members just as human children are. Given the development of this intense bond, it is unsurprising that dogs have developed a keen ability to interact with humans in an effective way. This ability to interact with humans has further led to dogs working alongside humans in tasks ranging from fetching a toy to sniffing materials in search of bomb components. Given that domestic dogs hold this position as an integral part of daily human life, it is important that we seek to understand canine cognition and behavior and how it is similar to and different from that of humans. In the current research, the dog-human relationship was investigated using a multi-method approach, applying established behavioral methods alongside neuroimaging techniques. The outcome of this research is a comprehensive assessment of individual and global behavioral and neural markers of social attachment in domestic dogs. First, the foundational literature for the research is detailed, including discussions of dog domestication and working dog proficiency. Next, a methodology is described which assesses neural indicators of face and emotion processing and recognition in dogs, as well as behavioral indicators of dogs’ attachment to familiar humans. It was found that dogs demonstrated differential brain activations according to familiarity and emotional valence in the hippocampus, amygdala, and caudate and that such activations correlated with behavioral markers of attachment.