By Nancy Barber Jan 28th 2014
Researchers are working to prove what dog owners have said for years. Dogs really do love us! Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., have discovered that dogs do in fact experience feelings of love and affection.
After training dogs to tolerate the noise of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, a team of scientists was able to get clear images of dogs’ brains without sedating them.
“I thought that if military dogs can be trained to jump out of helicopters then surely we could train them to sit still inside an MRI scanner,” said neuroscientist Gregory Berns.
The team used hand signals to tell the dogs that they were going to receive treats while they were in the scanner. The resulting images showed that the caudate nucleus, a part of the brain related to positive emotions, was similar in both humans and dogs. This discovery lead the team to believe that dogs are capable of feeling emotions associated with love.
“We can really begin to understand what a dog is thinking rather than infer it from their behavior,” Berns said.
Many scientists argue that the bond between an owner and their dog goes no further than a dog’s need for safety and food. Bern’s and his team’s next step in their research is to prove this belief to be false by offering dogs food from strangers and machines.
“If, as many scientists have argued in the past, it is all simply about getting food for dogs, then the reaction in their brains would be the same no matter who or what is offering them the food,” Bern said.
Bern and his team will continue their research, working to prove that dogs love their owners as more than just a source of food and security.
“We hope to show that they love us for things far beyond food, basically the same things that humans love us for, like social comfort and social bonds,” Berns said.