The Science is In. My Dog Does LOVE Me!

“Your dog doesn’t love you.” – My brother has said to this my sister throughout the years in spite of her insistence that her dog Carmella does, truly does, love her.

He’s convinced that Carmella’s relationship with her is based solely on the fulfillment of her needs—primarily Carmella’s food needs, which are all-consuming (no pun intended). John isn’t convinced, no matter how much my sister makes a case for it, that Carmella’s behavior is evidence of true love.

Carmella
Carmella

I admit that, for a long time, I thought the same thing, even about my own dogs, especially Stella, whose behavior towards me has always seemed more like disdainful tolerance, rather than true affection. In the case of Carmella, I, too, assumed that her close bond to Carolyn stemmed from years of lavish treat-giving. A dog would have to be a fool, or a cat, to bite the hand of the person who puts the casserole dish on the floor after the humans have had their dinner.

But now, I’m happy to say to my brother—YOU’RE WRONG! Wrong. Because, researchers have discovered, through the amazing magic of MRI scanning, that dogs do experience the same feeling of love that humans do. Without all the shaming and petty disagreements over leaving the toilet seat up, however.

Scientists at Emory University, a place that receives lots of money to do useful studies, were interested in finding out how dogs’ brains work. They already know how cats’ brains work, which is to pursue killing or taunting their owners in the most devious ways imaginable. No mystery there.

digital illustration by Jean Calomeni, digital art by snoring dog studio, illustration of girl with Boston Terrier

The researcher, Gregory Berns, and his colleagues, first trained the dog subjects to tolerate the noise of the MRI machine. Frankly, if my dogs can tolerate the sound of my singing, I’m sure that getting used to the racket inside an MRI is nothing.

This study was done the right way, instead of faking the results and creating a not-really-controlled control group. They even obtained consent forms from the dogs’ owners! And witnessed by an inked paw print at the bottom of the form, too.

What they’ve discovered is that a dog’s brain isn’t that different from our own. Fascinating. That helps explain my snarling at strangers who get on the elevator with me just to get to one floor above or below.

The magic of this chemistry occurs in the caudate nucleus, a part of the brain that both humans and dogs share. I don’t know about cats. They’re not into sharing.

The caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love, money and the upcoming season of The Walking Dead.

What Berns discovered was this: “…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.”

Go ahead and call it love Dr. Berns. You know you want to.

Berns even proposes that dogs “have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.”  I admit to feeling a bit uncomfortable about that, considering my aversion to human children. But I do dress my dogs in human-like clothes. There’s that. And they get Christmas and birthday presents. And play dates.

The most startling comment made by Berns has to do with assigning “limited personhood” status to dogs. Before you get all uppity and indignant about that, you non-dog lovers, consider this: If the Supreme Court can grant citizenship to corporations, they sure as hell can do the same for my dogs. And, frankly, dogs behave much more responsibly as persons than 99% of corporations do. We let nincompoops vote, why not my dogs?

Assigning personhood to dogs is a fine thing for me. Most of the time I’d rather spend time with dogs rather than humans, anyway. And knowing that my dogs love me makes Valentine’s Day just a bit less gruesome for this single woman.

Carolyn, the next time your brother denies that Carmella loves you, really loves you, point him to this study. Tell him to get used to thinking of Carmella as a sentient being who loves him, too. As Jane Seymour says, “If Your Heart Is Open, Love Will Always Find Its Way In.”

digital illustration of boston terrier, snoring dog studio digital art,

66 thoughts on “The Science is In. My Dog Does LOVE Me!

  1. “And, frankly, dogs behave much more responsibly as persons than 99% of corporations do.”

    Agreed! Dogs might pollute the lawn, but corporations pollute the earth.

    I’m curious as to how birds experience love, given my long history of nurturing pet cockatiels. Does my tiel truly love me, or does he just love the head-rubs and millet treats I give him? I know research has uncovered evidence of high intelligence and social sophistication among parrots and corvids, but I’m eager to know how they feel love.

      1. They haven’t met my cats. The other day I was ill and Jack was so worried he sat on top of me while I napped and would check on me with his eyes wide, purring and licking my hands. He wouldn’t leave my side (and Ian had already fed him for the day, so it wasn’t food-motivated.) Both cats greet us excitedly at the door like dogs, and one of them walks on a leash (the other sits on command.) I feel that the studies just haven’t selected the right cats. Some can be extremely loyal.

          1. Aww, while we love them more than most people love cats, there are kitties at least somewhat similar to them at the shelter. If you look for the kitties with a tag like “personal assistant,” you can find the personality type. :3 That’s how we knew our second kitty would fit in. (If you look for a personal assistant though, you really do end up with a lot of “assistance,” so it’s not the cat for everyone. It’s sort of like having toddlers…)

  2. Ha! May be he will listen now. But, I think his comments are fostered by a secret jealousy of my relationship with Carmella. Carmella likes John, but she really, really loves me.

  3. Even as a cat-lover who’s willing to make do with bemused tolerance and occasional gestures of acceptance, I’m not surprised by the study at all. there’s just something about the human-canine bond that clearly goes beyond a full dinner bowl.

    When I was in grade school and we all walked to and from school, it wasn’t at all surprising to come out when the last bell rang and find three or four – or even more – dogs lined up in front of the door. They were there to walk their children home. Don’t even try to tell me that’s just conditioned reflex. ;)

  4. I am a cat person, but I must admit, I love my dog much more like I love humans. It’s kinda cool to think she loves me similarly!
    I can’t live without a cat. It’s like I need the purring snuggles of feline contentment. But I love my dog! My dog is my friend, my nearly-constant companion, my alarm system, my protector…

    1. Thank you for providing another thoughtful, measured response – you sound like quite the giving, charitable human. No wonder your dog loves you and your cat thinks you’re a special human worthy of affection.

  5. There is no denying it. Dogs do have a healing power just by their mere presence. At least on most occasions. No humans going to welcome you home with such energy each and everyday.

    1. Your last sentence is so true. Unless your dog isn’t feeling well, the response when you return, even if you’ve been gone for two minutes, is still unfettered, unconditional joy. What a companion. My life is enriched because of the dogs I’ve owned.

  6. I resemble those remarks you made about cats. As a person owned by a cat, I have to tell you they are discriminating. Unlike dogs, they do not choose to own just anyone. They are very particular. Just because you feed them, does not mean they choose to love you. You have to earn that love.

    But I do admit that from time to time, it would be nice to have a dog around too.

    1. Funny, Don! Yes, it’s difficult being a cat owner. You have to be somewhat less egotistic than us dog owners. You have to have a thick skin for the disdain you’ll experience. But, I do hear, from many of my readers, that cats can at least show grudging acceptance of their human inferiors.

  7. Love this. I read the book and so enjoyed it. I am still looking at my dog with the same eyes and feelings as I was quite sure she loved me all along.

  8. Very coool! Paws up. Humans are finally getting smart. Of course she loves you! How else to explain the behavior of dogs who put themselves in danger to save owners and they mourn loss.
    (and their votes would simple and decisive and about practical stuff.)
    Interesting stuff…science proves, what we already know. Validation.

      1. That’s one thing that worries me about the King Amendment – some states have laws about puppy mills and animal fights – this amendment will block those laws. grrrrr.
        What is anyone saying about Russia hiring snipers to kill all stray dogs near Olympic venues? China tried that and there was outrage.
        Sigh. I did not plan to be a political person or animal rights activist, but things seem to be going backwards.

  9. Your timing on this post is excellent, SDS. I am in full gotta-get-a-dog lobbying mode (my husband hasn’t recovered from the loss of Cooper, our Springer WHO DID LOVE US). I’m getting there.

    I actually read this book, which is wonderful. It really does reinforce everything we dog lovers and recipients of dog lovin’ have always known. They aren’t cats.

    Thanks for the ammo!

    1. Yay, Elyse! Dogs also reduce blood pressure in humans as well as raise levels of the good hormones – tell your hubby that, too. There are so many benefits and they all outweigh the minor inconveniences. I can’t imagine my life without a dog.

      1. He knows. He is a dog lover. But Cooper, who died in August, was his very special friend. Cooper had a long illness and John was amazing in his care taking. Bit broke his heart when the poor old guy died.

        So I have let him have his time to mourn. Now it’s time to start getting the next one.

  10. As you know, Jean, I visit my family on the west coast twice a year. As soon as I enter my sister’s townhouse, Thurber, my family’s pooch, goes nuts, he’s so thrilled to see me. Intellectually, this guy’s not Lassie. In fact, he’s probably more on the level of the Village Idiot, but he remembers me and it’s not because I’m walking in the door carrying a steak. During the week I visit, Thurber likes to snuggle and I welcome the affection. He’s only affectionate with select people. I’m honored to make the cut. Dogs are comforting, emotional creatures and I love them for that quality. Plus it’s also fun to play fetch with them.

  11. Over the years, I’ve learned to read between the lines with you, and I’m starting to get a vague feeling that you don’t really like cats so much. Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I?

  12. I read this study too…actually this makes me happy because I’m often accused of reading really weird stuff….Now I can point out that my friend discovered this magnificent factoid too…But it does make me a bit nervous…I now feel like I should ask Diego if he wishes to be brushed or getting a hair cut….hmmmm..

  13. ha….funny. I never ‘technically’ owned a dog. After the seperation the Ex bought a ‘guilt gift’ puppy for the kids. So I had joint custody of the dog,too. Dog ran away from her once….was found on my back steps. Now she has a mix poodle-schnauser. He stays with me when she goes out of town. I don’t know if he loves me….but he does love a small amount of beer once in awhile. and, he plays a mean game of cribbage. sorry I haven’t been around much….minor, but anxious life moments.

  14. Oh for an ounce of your wit! I howled till the cat skuttled under the bed over this: If the Supreme Court can grant citizenship to corporations, they sure as hell can do the same for my dogs. And, frankly, dogs behave much more responsibly as persons than 99% of corporations do. We let nincompoops vote, why not my dogs?

    I believe dogs love their owners. Just like men love their wives, as long as said wives keep the food and sex rolling. (Sorry…men are just as trainable and manipulable (?) as dogs. Hmm. Men are dogs. Hmmm. Sorry, I got a bit off topic there. Sorry guys.

  15. Current dog only seems to love treats, and walkies, and dancing. So I’d be damned surprised to find out she likes me, much less loves me! I’m not the one with hands made out of food, after all. Sigh.

    But my cats? Yeah, they love me. Especially when it is cold out, or I have a couch-day (Walking Dead, yessss!) or both. When I was little we had a Siamese who cared not for me as a rule, unless I was sad and crying. Then she would come and sit with me – I know it wasn’t to stop my annoying noise.

    I’ve had a few MRI’s, those things are scary as hell! Maybe they can do some research on how to make them less horrible for humans, too?

  16. If this research gains traction, I wonder if they’ll find a new term for us fellows. We’re often called dogs now, but if dogs can love, perhaps you’ll have to find another animal to lump us with. Armadillo, anyone?

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