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!