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Research Finds “Dogs are People, Too”

Some very interesting research proves what many of us already know – our dogs show many emotions just the same as humans (cats too, but this research was done on dogs only).  Scientists trained dogs to go into a M.R.I scanner – what they learned is fascinating.

Below are some excerpts from a story written by the researcher in the New York Times

By looking directly at their brains and bypassing the constraints of behaviorism, M.R.I.’s can tell us about dogs’ internal states. M.R.I.’s are conducted in loud, confined spaces. People don’t like them, and you have to hold absolutely still during the procedure. Conventional veterinary practice says you have to anesthetize animals so they don’t move during a scan. But you can’t study brain function in an anesthetized animal. At least not anything interesting like perception or emotion.

From the beginning, we treated the dogs as persons. We had a consent form, which was modeled after a child’s consent form but signed by the dog’s owner. We emphasized that participation was voluntary, and that the dog had the right to quit the study. We used only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn’t want to be in the M.R.I. scanner, they could leave. Same as any human volunteer.

Although we are just beginning to answer basic questions about the canine brain, we cannot ignore the striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus.

Rich in dopamine receptors, the caudate sits between the brainstem and the cortex. In humans, the caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love and money. But can we flip this association around and infer what a person is thinking just by measuring caudate activity? Because of the overwhelming complexity of how different parts of the brain are connected to one another, it is not usually possible to pin a single cognitive function or emotion to a single brain region.

But the caudate may be an exception. Specific parts of the caudate stand out for their consistent activation to many things that humans enjoy. Caudate activation is so consistent that under the right circumstances, it can predict our preferences for food, music and even beauty.

In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view. Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.

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. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.


Video of the M.R.I. training of the dogs…

And an earlier published video on this research…

To read the full story published in the New York Times, Click Here.


Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Association for Truth in Pet Food
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author Buyer Beware, Co-Author Dinner PAWsible

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  1. It’s great to have research support what we dog lovers have “known” for a very long time.

  2. I love this research project. I have believed the theory since I have owned and loved my dogs throughout my life.

  3. This is rich! I have been one of those who just identify deeply with animals and their feelings. I never questioned the fact that they had feelings just like I did but the reigning psychology has always been that they were just animals with no emotions.
    We were told that they only wanted food and the reason they licked us was because they liked the taste of salt on our skin. I really wondered about the sanity of a scientist that could come up with such findings. Glad to see that someone is taking another look.
    How on earth could anyone come home from work and not see the sheer joy on the face of their dog? Oh, I forgot, they are just hungry!

  4. I wonder how much this study cost?

  5. Maybe these studies and their findings along with others will put an end to KILL SHELTERS and animal cruelty!!! I’ve always said if they don’t believe in doing that to children, then why animals? It needs to stop. We have to find a way to end it. It’s so heartbreaking. I can’t believe it even takes studies to prove these things. I mean, how could anyone hurt an animal? They are the most precious cuties ever.

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