me start by saying I almost never review books about
animals. Everyone who has ever written one has an
opinion and normally, its just that — his or her
opinion. And there are as many of those as there are
column is no different, even though it is about a book
week, I received Dr. Gregory Berns’ book "How
Dogs Love Us, A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog
Decode the Canine Brain," and I couldn’t wait to
have a few minutes to sit down with a good read. What I
discovered was so much more. Although it was filled with
unfamiliar scientific terms, it was also surprisingly
easy to read.
book ever written about what dogs are thinking is what
someone thinks dogs are thinking.
was something completely different.
took a premise all dog lovers have always known and
proved it through the science of brain mapping.
two years, Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University
in Atlanta taught his dog, Callie, a shelter-rescued rat
terrier, to enthusiastically walk into a magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI) machine and sit, sphinx-like and
without moving, until scientists could get thousands of
images of her brain in order to map it.
a team member’s border collie and an agility champion,
was also in the first round of tests to find out how
dogs relate to their humans.
first, the pair worked for hot dogs and peas. But as
research continued, Berns realized something else was
start with, both dogs were chosen because each had the
demeanor and the drive to learn to sit inside a tube
while testing required them to do so in a calm state so
the test would record activity in an awake, non-stressed
quest began after losing his 14-year-old pug, Newton.
After a long period of mourning, he began wondering if
Newton felt the same attachment to him.
dogs have some concept of humans as something more than
food dispensers? Simply knowing that human feelings
toward dogs are reciprocated in some way, even if only
partially, changes everything. It would mean that
dog-human relationships belong on the same plan as
human-human relationships," Berns writes.
thinking about the logistics of accomplishing the
training necessary to do the study is mind boggling to
anyone who has ever trained an animal. Most people hate
MRIs. How do you make a dog be amenable to the test?
project started with the premise that the dogs would be
treated as if they were human children. If it was too
stressful or painful in any way, the testing would be
stopped immediately. Participants were never forced.
Everything they did was voluntary.
was accustomed to studying human brains, but this would
be something very different. He and his team wanted to
compare dogs’ brains with those of humans. Employing a
technique used on humans for the past 20 years, the team
used functional MRI (fMRI) to study active neurons in
the animal’s brain.
discounts the theory that we can rely on wolf behavior
to interpret dog behavior. While they share a common
ancestor, it doesn’t mean dogs are descended from
wolves. This is an important distinction.
evolutionary trajectories of wolves and dogs diverged
when some of the "wolf-dogs" started hanging
out with proto-humans (hypothetical primitive ancestors
of modern humans). Those that stuck around became dogs
and those that stayed away became modern wolves,"
means wolves behave differently from dogs and have very
different social structures. Wolf analogies have led to
the flawed training strategies based on the idea that
the human must be a "pack leader," according
team was able to deduce through the study that although
a dog can’t talk, his social interaction with his
humans is remarkably advanced. It is humans who are not
paying attention. In a dog’s eyes, we are his
partners, not his leader.
journey Berns and his team embarked on, and are
continuing, is as remarkable as the study’s
conclusions to date.
to say, Berns proves what most pet lovers have always
known. Our dogs are much like us. They are sentient
beings. Quite simply, they think about what we are
is the journey it took to get there that is so
Dogs Love Us" from New Harvest will be available
Oct. 22. Diminishing discounts on the $25 retail price
are available on pre-ordered copies at Amazon.com for
hardback and Kindle editions.