Is your dog your child? Or do you consider your pup to be more human than canine? At times, I definitely do. I am convinced that my Django not only understands what I tell her, but can probably talk back. She picks up on my emotions and sometimes, I think she take on those same emotions, so when I’m down in the dumps, I often feel that she is, too. According to a new study, dogs are people in this sense, and they have human-like emotions.
Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University and the author of “How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain,” studied dogs by looking directly into their brains using M.R.I. scanner. Participation was voluntary and from the onset, the dogs involved (Berns’ dog was the first candidate) were treated as people:
From the beginning, we treated the dogs as persons. We had a consent form, which was modeled after a child’s consent form but signed by the dog’s owner. We emphasized that participation was voluntary, and that the dog had the right to quit the study. We used only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn’t want to be in the M.R.I. scanner, they could leave. Same as any human volunteer.
Berns started by testing his own dog’s brain function and within a year, he acquired 12 dogs who were M.R.I. certified. The similarity between dogs and humans in one specific region of the brain, caudate nucleus, provided the most evidence:
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 suggests that this brain evidence may help the effort to stop treating dogs as mere property and give them proper protection against cruelty:
If we went a step further and granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation. Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person.
While Berns says he thinks that we are still ‘years away’ from considering dogs as people, he believes these brain findings may be a good start.
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