Dogs Feel Emotions Like People, Study Reveals

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dogs Feel Emotions Like People, Study Reveals

One researcher may have found scientific evidence that dogs are people, too. Well, not quite, but they may feel some of the same human emotions as humans.

Gregory Berns, professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University and the author of “How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain,” has done what many other researchers have not been able to do, which is study MRI scans of dog brains without the use of anesthetic.

Berns and dog trainer Mark Spivak used positive reinforcement training with the dogs who participated in the study. There were no use of sedations, no restraints, and the participants could leave at anytime. 

Berns disclosed his findings in a piece for The New York Times, where he says dog parents signed consent forms for their dogs.

His first subject was his own dog, Callie, a rescue terrier mix. After several months of training, they were able to get their first scans. The scan measured her reactions to hand signals and scents of familiar and unfamiliar dogs.

The study focused on the caudate nucleus. It was found that the caudate nucleus changed when the dogs were presented with food and more importantly, it changed when the dog’s people returned from having stepped out of the room.

Berns says it doesn’t prove that dogs love us. However, the caudate in dogs is similar to that of humans and the same thing that activates human caudate, which is associated with positive emotions, also activates a dog’s caudate. “The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs,” Berns wrote.

Berns says these types of studies may eventually change how we view dogs and other animals.

He points out many animal activists and rescues already refer to adopters as “guardians” instead of “owners.”

Image: Reddogs/via Shutterstock

I typically refer to people who have pets as “pet parents,” because this is how I see myself, not an “owner.” What do you think of this study? Tell us in the comment section below.