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Of Course They Love Us – We Always Knew They Did

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290 – November/December, 2017

By Chris Robinson

Have you ever wondered why Fido is so ecstatic when you come home after a few hours absence? Or, why Rover is so quick to put his head on your lap when you are feeling down, and why Bella puts her paw on your arm when you slump, tired and discouraged, into your favorite chair? There must be a reason why Abby sits on your feet and gazes soulfully at you whenever you talk to her. Well, there is. It’s because they actually, really, truly do love us. It’s also why Bo jumps up on my bed every morning to snuggle and shower me with dog kisses and why he “walks point” wherever I go in the house and outdoors although there have not been any acts of terror by a representative of either ISIS or Al Qaeda on our farm despite the presence of what Amaq News Agency, which acts as the newswire for ISIS, called a “soldier of the Islamic State” after he stabbed nine people in a shopping mall about 40 miles away before he was killed by an off-duty police officer a little more than a year ago.

Yes, yes, I know. I’ve written several stories about how dogs are the ultimate manipulative con artists. Chalk it up to the cynicism built up over the course of more than 40 years as an investigative reporter. Indeed, about ten years into my career, I was discussing a story I was working on with a friend of mine who was an FBI agent. About halfway through my narrative, he stopped me and, shaking his head in wonderment, said I was as cynical as any 20-year homicide de- tective so you can just about guess how high my personal level of disenchantment with the human race has risen in an additional 30-plus years on the job. But, while no one can convince me that I’m wrong about humans and their willingness to lie even when they would be better served by telling the truth, I was wrong about dogs’ motivation for many of the things they do and there’s a recent study by Dr. Gregory Berns, a neurosci- entist at Emory University, that proves that I was wrong. Unlike Captain Nathan Brittles, the cavalry officer portrayed by John Wayne in Director John Ford’s classic western, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, I don’t view admitting I was wrong as a sign of weakness. As the saying goes, “To admit that you were wrong is to declare that you are wiser now than you were before.”

Dr. Berns spends much of his day using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study what’s going on in Max’s and Molly’s heads which is tougher than it sounds because the dogs have to be trained to hold absolutely still for Berns to get a good result. What has Dr. Berns discovered in his studies? Something almost every dog lover has always known. Dogs aren’t faking it when they act like they love us. He and his team confirmed this through a series of tests that looked at different areas of a dog’s brain and how they responded to different stimuli. In one test, they alternated between giving the dogs pieces of hotdogs and offering them praise. When they analyzed the results from the pleasure centers of the dogs’ brains, the researchers found that almost all of the dogs responded to praise with at least as much pleasure as they got from the hot dog and a fifth of the dogs actually preferred praise to food. The study concluded that dogs derive as much pleasure from love as they do from food.

Click here to read the complete article
290 – November/December, 2017

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