Dog Love

Who doesn't want that special gift canines seem to have? Most of them are always on-the-ready to seek a pat on the head, even at first acquaintance. In fact, it's very rare to meet a dog who doesn't welcome a good amount of attention from you. It's often been said, they give unconditionally.

However, some dogs, no matter how much love you show them, just don't seem to cotton to you.  There's something about you that sends up a red flag.

Can they determine if your trustworthy or a liar?  Do they truly love you? In essence, can they shrink you? A new study brings new light to dogs being sentient beings just like us.

Food Dispenser or Real Love?

Most pet owners will tell you their pets are the absolute best. They will express in hyperbole just how much their dog needs them. But when closely examined, your pet might simply view you as a walking, breathing food dispenser, and nothing more. Think about Pavlov's dog theory in reverse, and whether or not they truly love you, or whether you're just that bell they need to ring to extract a treat. As such, start thinking about your dog as the master?

Dogs are People too!

In a recent research study, neuroscientist Gregory Berns found “dogs are people, too.” He came to this conclusion, after performing multiple MRI scans on dogs. When reviewing the results, he determined the same brain region responsible for emotions in humans is found in dogs as well.

"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," Berns noted.

Let the Brain do all the Talking

The fact you can’t ask a dog how it feels, or what he or she is thinking, makes this type of research most challenging. However, by using brain scans, you don't have to have Dr. Doolittle's capability of talking to the animals. Instead, you let the brain do all the talking.

The first hurdle was how to keep a dog still during the scanning process. Berns met this task head-on with training. He taught dogs to stay still when inside the MRI scanner, and in so doing became the first scientist to measure brain activity while the dog was awake, versus under anesthesia.

The caudate nucleus is located between the brainstem and the cortex. This dopamine-rich region plays a key role in humans' and dogs' feelings toward food and love.

“Many of the same things that activate the human caudate [part of the brain], which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog's caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions,” Berns wrote in an article for the NY Times.

“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 as to how we should treat our best friends.

Are Our Dogs Our Property?

However, isn't it an oxymoron to consider our dogs our "best friends" and "property," at the same time?

From a legal standpoint, while the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 raised the bar for the treatment of animals, they concluded animals were merely things — "objects that can be disposed of as long as reasonable care is taken to minimize their suffering."

However, 50 years later, by using MRI, we need to listen to what science is telling us. Dogs and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives) seem to have emotions just like us. And as such, its incumbent on us to reconsider their treatment as property.

Does your dog really love you?

Studies also found these scans can prove the levels of emotions when the dog's brain is exposed to the scent of people: both their own, their pet owners and strangers.

One scent activates the pleasure center of the brain, making the dog more inclined to like that individual. Dogs determine agreeable and disagreeable people by the pheromones they are releasing.

Pheromones may signal a threat or level of discomfort telling the dog to beware. Humans can also give off pheromones that reek of fear or nervousness to a dog. Dogs have a predisposition as to what humans should smell like — when that scent doesn’t add up — the dogs tend to pull back, bark or cower.

Most pheromones are detected by the sense of smell. However, not all smells are pheromones. Mammals, including humans, also give off a cloud of molecules that represent our unique individual "smell" or chemical profile. These differences between individuals make it possible for dogs to distinguish people by smell. Some they like. Some they don't.

Earn a Dog's Trust & Love

After all, as the song goes: "Can't hurry love. No, You'll just have to wait." Positive emotions toward another human sometimes take time. It's the same with dogs. Some come easy. Some you'll just have to wait.

Here are some behavioral tactics provided by Mexican-American dog behaviorist Cesars Millan to earn a dog’s trust and love.

Stay calm

  • It can be tempting to greet a dog with excited energy. But avoid the temptation. If you approach a dog in an excited state, it can make the dog excited and lead to an unwanted greeting, like it jumping up on you. It can also trigger a dog’s fight or flight instinct if a stranger with high energy approaches. The best action is to stay calm and speak softly.


Respect their space

  • Practice “no touch, no talk, no eye contact.” If you’re asking a stranger whether you can greet their dog, talk to the human and ignore the animal. Also, avoid standing too close to the dog. Try to leave at least four feet between you before getting permission to approach.


Get on their level

  • When you do approach the dog, do so from the side and never from the front. Kneel down next to the dog, facing the same direction. You’re now in the dog’s personal space but in a non-confrontational way. Hold your hand down in a fist, still not making eye contact.


Let them come to you

  • This is when the dog will let you know if she’s interested. If she sniffs your hand and stays calmly in place, then you can pet her — but pet the front of her chest. Never try to touch an unfamiliar dog from above. If she licks your hand, then she’s accepted you. However, if she turns her head away or doesn’t pay any attention, she’s just not interested. Again, don’t take it personally. Accept it and move on.


Go for a walk

  • When first meeting a dog that you are going to adopt, the above procedures also apply, and you may need to respect their space and let them come to you for a while after they’ve moved into your home. Remember: in the dog world, the followers approach the leaders and not the other way around. But once you have that new dog in your pack, the best way to earn her trust is to take her on walks. This is where you get to be the Pack Leader in action, and she gets to learn that you are giving her protection and direction. Maintain a calm-assertive state, and your confidence will quickly teach her that she is safe when she’s with you.



So if you're curious if your dog really loves you, think about how similar their brains are to ours. And think about how you discern folks you love from those you don't. Think about how you distinguish others by shrinking them. According to these studies, it's possible your dogs have that same ability. Who knows? There might be a Dr.Freud in the bunch.

On the other hand, perhaps they can teach us a thing or two about unconditional love. Because if dogs are sentient and yet choose to offer explicit love — even to pet owners who don't return the affection — it sounds to me, dogs have evolved to a higher level than humans. Don't you think?


Randy Glasbergen
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Primary Source: NY Times