Photo: Susan McDonald’s Jack Russell Terrier.
You don’t have to take my word for it: science says so, too. A recent series of studies in the United States suggest that dogs recognise kindness and give trust in return; that they experience emotions like love and attachment, like humans.
Unlike previous research into canine sentience, this time researchers were able to use an MRI. No mean feat when you remember that the subject must be awake; you can’t map brain activity in an anesthetised dog.
Uncomfortable as the scan is, even for humans, unrestrained dogs were trained to sit rock-still – and even more remarkably, this was achieved using only positive training methods based on trust.
The dogs were treated as human children would be: their owners had to sign a consent form to enable them to participate, and the dogs were allowed to leave if they wanted.
As if any further evidence was needed of the dogs’ sentience, the scan enabled the researchers to map activity in the caudate nucleus – that area of the brain where emotions can be measured in dogs as in humans.
They found that activity increased in response to hand signals indicating food, smells of familiar dogs and people, and the return of a familiar human. A subsequent experiment showed activity increased when dogs heard the voice of someone familiar (and no, not just the person who fed them).
The inescapable conclusion, wrote one of the researchers, Gregory Burns, in an op-ed in the New York Times, was that “dogs are people, too”.
This will come as no surprise to dog lovers. We’ve always felt that, at some level, our dogs love us back. But it is evidence “we can no longer hide from”, wrote Burns. “Dogs, and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives) seem to have emotions just like us.”
via Dogs love us, says science – so we have to love them back | Susan McDonald | Comment is free | theguardian.com.