Now There Is Scientific Proof, Dogs Love Humans!

Like most dog lovers and dog parents, I believe that our dogs do love us. But until recently, there was no scientific proof that this was true. Thanks to Gregory Berns, M.D., Ph.D., a distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University, we now have scientific proof.

Dr. Berns Dog Project took on the task of successfully completing an MRI brain scan of conscious and willing dogs. The dogs had to be conscious so that the MRI scan would show the conscious brain of the dog, which would be different from that of an unconscious dog. Plus the dogs had to be willing because an unwilling dog could provide inaccurate data. The dogs had to go through a lot of training to prepare for the MRI. They had to independently be able to get onto the patient table all by themselves, crawl into the MRI tube, rest their head in a type of cradle to keep their head still during the scan, remain completely still for 20 – 30 seconds at a time while enduring the loud noises of the MRI machine. Far from an easy task!

In Dr. Berns book, How Dogs Love Us A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain, he went through the entire process of obtaining approval for the study, the use of dogs, the steps taken to prepare for the MRI, and the results of the brain scans. Dr. Berns was able to train two dogs to participate in the study. Both dogs successfully went through numerous MRI scans in order to collect data.

Dr. Berns states that the “data showed that their mental models included the identity of important people in their lives that persists even when the people aren’t even present.”

Dr. Berns continued to say that “the evidence continues to accumulate that not only are the dogs sensitive to where humans’ attention is directive, but dogs are also sensitive to the social context. They know when it is appropriate to attend to their human’s attention and when it is not. This means that dogs have more than a Theory of Behavior. They have a Theory of Mind.” Theory of Mind means that both humans and dogs can imagine what another might be thinking!

According to Dr. Berns, the Dog Projects purpose was to “understand the dog-human relationship from the dogs’ perspective, and the most important thing we learned was that dogs’ brains show evidence of Theory of Mind for humans. This means that they not only pay attention to what we do but what we think, and they change their behavior based on what they think we’re thinking.”

“People become intensely attached to their pets. … It is not an exaggeration to say that for many people, their pets are their primary relationships and that they love their cats and dogs more than people.” It is so nice to have scientific confirmation of the feelings I have for my dogs, and that they reciprocate those feelings as well. I thought that maybe I was just a crazy dog lady, which I still may be, but I am among many others!

 

Mourning The Loss Of A Dog and Why It Is So Hard

I have lost three dogs in my adult life, all of which were difficult to get through the grieving process. Even though all three dogs were very special and loved very much, there was something different about Lady Lacy Marie. I don’t know if it was because she was a girl when the others were all boys or if it was because she had been horribly abused prior to my adoption of her. Lacy’s loss weighed heavy on me and still does. This month is the two year anniversary of her passing and I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog about mourning the loss of a dog. When researching the subject, I found this wonderful article which says it all.

It can be harder to lose a dog than a relative or friend — here’s why

By Frank T. McAndrew, Cornelian H. Dudley Professor of Psychology, Knox College

The Conversation

Mar. 19, 2017, 11:10 AM

Republished by Business Insider

dog                   Matt Cardy/Getty Images

“Recently, my wife and I went through one of the more excruciating experiences of our lives – the euthanasia of our beloved dog, Murphy.

I remember making eye contact with Murphy moments before she took her last breath – she flashed me a look that was an endearing blend of confusion and the reassurance that everyone was ok because we were both by her side.

When people who have never had a dog see their dog-owning friends mourn the loss of a pet, they probably think it’s all a bit of an overreaction; after all, it’s “just a dog.”

However, those who have loved a dog know the truth: Your own pet is never “just a dog.”

Many times, I’ve had friends guiltily confide to me that they grieved more over the loss of a dog than over the loss of friends or relatives. Research has confirmed that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one.

Unfortunately, there’s little in our cultural playbook – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious service – to help us get through the loss of a pet, which can make us feel more than a bit embarrassed to show too much public grief over our dead dogs.

Perhaps if people realized just how strong and intense the bond is between people and their dogs, such grief would become more widely accepted. This would greatly help dog owners to integrate the death into their lives and help them move forward.

An interspecies bond like no other

What is it about dogs, exactly, that make humans bond so closely with them?

For starters, dogs have had to adapt to living with humans over the past 10,000 years. And they’ve done it very well: They’re the only animal to have evolved specifically to be our companions and friends. Anthropologist Brian Hare has developed the “Domestication Hypothesis” to explain how dogs morphed from their grey wolf ancestors into the socially skilled animals that we now interact with in very much the same way as we interact with other people.

Perhaps one reason our relationships with dogs can be even more satisfying than our human relationships is that dogs provide us with such unconditional, uncritical positive feedback. (As the old saying goes, “May I become the kind of person that my dog thinks I already am.”)

A woman and her dogMary Turner/Getty Images

This is no accident. They have been selectively bred through generations to pay attention to people, and MRI scans show that dog brains respond to praise from their owners just as strongly as they do to food (and for some dogs, praise is an even more effective incentive than food). Dogs recognize people and can learn to interpret human emotional states from facial expression alone. Scientific studies also indicate that dogs can understand human intentions, try to help their owners and even avoid people who don’t cooperate with their owners or treat them well.

Not surprisingly, humans respond positively to such unrequited affection, assistance and loyalty. Just looking at dogs can make people smile. Dog owners score higher on measures of well-being and they are happier, on average, than people who own cats or no pets at all.

Like a member of the family

Our strong attachment to dogs was subtly revealed in a recent study of “misnaming.” Misnaming happens when you call someone by the wrong name, like when parents mistakenly calls one of their kids by a sibling’s name. It turns out that the name of the family dog also gets confused with human family members, indicating that the dog’s name is being pulled from the same cognitive pool that contains other members of the family. (Curiously, the same thing rarely happens with cat names.)

It’s no wonder dog owners miss them so much when they’re gone.

Psychologist Julie Axelrod has pointed out that the loss of a dog is so painful because owners aren’t just losing the pet. It could mean the loss of a source of unconditional love, a primary companion who provides security and comfort, and maybe even a protégé that’s been mentored like a child.

The loss of a dog can also seriously disrupt an owner’s daily routine more profoundly than the loss of most friends and relatives. For owners, their daily schedules – even their vacation plans – can revolve around the needs of their pets. Changes in lifestyle and routine are some of the primary sources of stress.

According to a recent survey, many bereaved pet owners will even mistakenly interpret ambiguous sights and sounds as the movements, pants and whimpers of the deceased pet. This is most likely to happen shortly after the death of the pet, especially among owners who had very high levels of attachment to their pets.

While the death of a dog is horrible, dog owners have become so accustomed to the reassuring and nonjudgmental presence of their canine companions that, more often than not, they’ll eventually get a new one.

So yes, I miss my dog. But I’m sure that I’ll be putting myself through this ordeal again in the years to come.”

In our next blog we will offer ways to help dog parents and dog lovers through the grieving process.

 

 

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According to an article written for Bloomberg Business Week by Ben Crair on August 18, 2015, he stated, “The U.S. pet industry has more than tripled over the past 20 years.” In an article for Consumer Affairs on August 15, 2016, Sarah D. Young wrote, “Americans spent upwards of $60 billion on pet products last year, and that number is expected to climb by $2 billion this year.” As a breeder I am sure you have felt this change. The question is, are you taking advantage of this boom in the industry?

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