Do You Believe Dogs Are People Too?

You’ve heard it said many times, many ways: “Dogs are people too.” But do you truly believe it?

One researcher out of Atlanta claims to. Hence, why he titled his opinion piece in last weekend’s New York Times after this common refrain. Consider his first two paragraphs by way of introduction to this compelling premise:

“For the past two years, my colleagues and I have been training dogs to go in an MRI scanner — completely awake and unrestrained. Our goal has been to determine how dogs’ brains work and, even more important, what they think of us humans.

Now, after training and scanning a dozen dogs, my one inescapable conclusion is this: Dogs are people too.”

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Hard Science Tops Fuzzy Intuition

To those of us who live with dogs and love them like family members, the people-ization of dogs is an attractive concept. The notion that dogs offer us as much or more emotional fulfillment as fellow humans is undeniably alluring — more so since most of us know it to be true from having experienced it.

So when Dr. Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University and author of How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain, tells us what we’ve always known ­­— that dogs are emotional creatures too — we’re not just fascinated… we’re sold.

After all, his isn’t the kind of squishy first-person-style argument we animal lovers would be likely to offer ourselves. Instead, Dr. Berns offers us indelible proof in the captivating colors of MRI imagery. Dogs, he finds, share the same kind of reactivity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain distinguished for its ability to anticipate things we enjoy, including such ultra-human ideas as art, beauty and love. 

Legal Implications

Based on these findings, Dr. Berns suggests we need to rethink the treatment of dogs in society. The current legal framework of dogs as property, he argues, is inadequate given clear indications that dogs’ brains are wired more like ours than we ever believed possible before this kind of research.

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