Sunday, 23 February 2014

Does Your Dog Have Emotions?

From BBC news

Do Dogs Love?

Ask agility trainers if their dogs feel the emotion of love, and you will get a puzzled look. "Of course dogs love," they would quickly reply. Science, however, is slower to respond and looks for tangible evidence of emotion before admitting its existence.
A new study is beginning to prove with scientific evidence that dogs do indeed love. Over the past two years, Emory University Neuroscientist Gregory Burns has been looking at MRI images of dogs' brains in a study to find out what dogs think of humans. He released a few of his findings in an op-ed piece for the "New York Times" on Oct. 5, 2013.

What the MRI Reveals

Burns and his colleagues have scanned the brains of a dozen dogs trained to go into a MRI machine. He used different stimuli to see how the dogs' brains would react. His findings show that the area of the brain called the caudate nucleus lights up when the dogs' humans returned to view after a brief separation. This is the same area of the brain that is activated when humans feel love.
In his article, Burns says, "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."
This type of MRI experiment has never been done before because it was believed dogs had to be anesthetized before going into an enclosed and noisy MRI machine. This made the study of how a dog's brain lights up when presented with different stimuli impossible. Burns looked for a solution and trained 12 dogs to willingly put their heads in an MRI machine for brief periods, so their brains could be studied while the dogs were awake.

Through MRI studies, we will learn more about how similar we are to our canine counterparts. Much of this is no shock to the agility community. We have known how much our dogs love us for decades upon decades. What may be a shock is how this type of information changes dog training.

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