Health

Children and dogs have very similar brains and emotions

The surprising new study shows that dogs (and likely other animals) feel emotions of love and happiness, just like humans.

Smiling dog

(Photo by Masterfile)

My husband thinks I’m crazy because I believe that our dog is going through a hard time emotionally. The reason for my dog’s distress is that he’s been supplanted as the in-house fur baby with a real live human baby. Unfortunately for my dog that means his life — and by life I mean routine — is disrupted. His walking schedule is all out of whack and sometimes he doesn’t get his breakfast until 8:30 a.m. rather than his usual 7 a.m.

In response to the changes he sulks and occasionally looks at me searchingly. If he could speak I’m pretty sure he would alternate between ‘What did I do wrong?’ and ‘When is that thing going back to the hospital?’

It’s a hard time for everyone (me included; I don’t get my breakfast until 2 p.m.) and Alvy is just one more individual trying to adjust to a new normal.

My husband would still say I’m crazy. But I’m going to make a point of emailing him a recent Op-Ed from the New York Times that supports my instinct that my dog has a rich interior life with something he respects: scientific proof.

In the essay ‘Dogs Are People Too’ Gregory Berns makes the case that dogs experience human emotions such as love. To pet owners that prize their animals this hardly comes as news, but to those who labour under the delusion that animals are brainless, emotionless mounds of fur, this should come as a shock.

His thesis isn’t based on anecdotal evidence however. Berns and his research partner used MRI scanner technology to observe the brain activity of dogs. What he discovered is that there’s a “striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus”.

This region is linked to our attachment to sources of pleasure such as food, love and money, shares Berns. And in dogs, this region behaves very much like a human’s. Berns says that it activated in anticipation of food and the presence of its owner or a familiar person.

This information alters the canine-human connection in many cases.

“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,” says Berns.

These findings may soon prove helpful in saving dogs and many other animals from being perceived as without feeling or emotion, says Berns. It’s that kind of thinking that allows for inhumane treatment to go largely unpunished and for the use of animals for cruel lab experiments.

Here’s hoping that positive change in our relationship takes place sooner rather than later. In the meantime, pass the article along. It may even settle one or two arguments with your significant other.

Tell us what kind of dog you have in the comment section below.