It's not just about the treats.

By Chris Morris
September 26, 2017

Dog owners, for years, have sworn that the allegiance and devotion of their pets was driven by love. Now they’ve got science to back it up.

An Emory University neuroscientist, using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine has scanned the brains of dogs with the goal of finding out what they’re thinking – and it turns out those puppy kisses aren’t just a ploy to get more milk bones.

Gregory Berns oversaw the experiment after the death of his own dog. The tests, done on 90 dogs after they’d been acclimated to the sounds of an MRI for months to allay their fears, first determined that canine prefrontal lobe activity was similar to that in humans. In other words, they use the same parts of their brains for problem solving as we do.

With that established, Berns gave dogs hot dogs and praise at different times, then compared the neurological responses.

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“When we compared their responses and looked at the rewards center of their brains, the vast number of dogs responded to praise and food equally,” he said. “Now, about 20 percent had stronger responses to praise than to food. From that, we conclude that the vast majority of dogs love us at least as much as food.”

The test also found dogs were wired to recognize faces.

The study, beside giving comfort to any dog lover, could also be important in helping to train service dogs, says Berns, as scan show which puppies are the best candidates (and, thus, could be less expensive to train.)

As for cats? Their brains remain a mystery.

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