Scott: More than 43 million American families own a dog. And for their owners, the love is unconditional. But science is helping us learn if that feeling is mutual. Maggie Rulli takes a closer look.
Maggie: Meet five-year-old Kady. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her family, the Kings.
Patricia King: Ready? Go get it!
Maggie: Yes, the Kings definitely consider Kady a part of the family. And Kady seems to love them just as much as they love her. But what is the real feeling behind those big eyes and wagging tail?
Patricia: You’ve got to wonder, do they just see the person that’s going to feed them and walk them and give them what they want or do they truly love us?
Maggie: To find out, owner Patricia King volunteered Kady for a research study at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia. Led by neurologist Gregory Berns, the goal was to see if dogs feel emotion the same way humans do.
Berns has spent his career using MRI brain scans to study decision-making in humans, but this technology has never before been used on dogs. Among the problems: they need to be awake and remain still for the noisy and claustrophobic procedure.
Gregory Berns: They’re coffin-like spaces. They’re incredibly loud and you have to hold still within millimeters.
Maggie: That is where Kady came in. To block out the noise, she learned to wear special earmuffs and was trained to remain perfectly still. Once in place, the team took brain scans of Kady while she was given commands and shown food, like hot dogs, first by a stranger and then by her owner Patricia.
Berns: We’re trying to sort out how she’s responding, not just to the signals, but to who’s giving the signals.
Maggie: What Berns found was that in one key part of the brain, dogs react with emotions like love and attachment the same way a human does. That key part of the brain is called the caudate nucleus and it sits right between the cerebral cortex and the brain stem.
In humans, it is important because it helps us get excited for the things that we enjoy, like food. In dogs, Berns found that the caudate nucleus also gets activated by food, as well as the smells of familiar humans and even when their owners come into the room.
Berns has documented his findings in a newly released book called How Dogs Love Us. As for Patricia King and her family, the results of the study only confirmed what they already knew.
Patricia: We all just want to be loved. And just to know that our dog might have the same feelings, I think it will enhance our bond. And we just see them as a little more like us.
Maggie: Berns says that a dog’s ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, is similar to that of a human child. And he hopes these findings will convince lawmakers to revise laws to give greater rights to dogs as individuals.
Well, Scott, I know you love your dog, so I bet you are awfully happy to hear that she loves you back.
Scott: How could you not love a face like this! Am I right? Who doesn’t love puppy pics? In fact, we would love to see your best photos of you and your pet! Just post to Instagram and use the hashtag “#ch1puppylove”. Just like this. And we will repost our faves throughout the day.