Apart from keeping our Floridian fellows in our thoughts, what’s on the agenda as we start the week?
On a more upbeat note, we humans don’t deserve dogs, and yet they forgive us. From the NYTimes, “Gregory Berns Knows What Your Dog Is Thinking (It’s Sweet)”:
Dr. Gregory Berns, 53, a neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, spends his days scanning the brains of dogs, trying to figure out what they’re thinking. The research is detailed in a new book, “What It’s Like to Be a Dog.”
Among the findings: Your dog may really love you for you — not for your food…
Dr. Burns: As a neuroscientist, I’d seen how M.R.I. studies helped us understand which parts of the human brain were involved in emotional processes. Perhaps M.R.I. testing could teach us similar things about dogs. I wondered if dogs had analogous functions in their brains to what we humans have.
The big impediment doing this type of testing was to find some way to get dogs into an M.R.I. and get them to hold still for long enough to obtain useful images.
I worked with an Atlanta-based dog trainer, Mark Spivak, to break down the steps that might make it possible for dogs to go into an M.R.I.
In my basement, I built an M.R.I. simulator. We introduced Callie, the family terrier, to it — acclimating her to the noise, teaching her to climb the stairs leading to the machine, recline into a head rest and be motionless for increasing periods of time.
After she mastered these tasks, we combined them, as would be necessary when she encountered a real M.R.I. It took her three months of practicing every day. After perfecting a training system, we sent out a call to local dog owners for volunteers for the study.
Since 2012, we’ve trained and scanned a total of about 90 dogs. As a matter of principle, we never restrained or drugged any. If a dog wants to get up from the M.R.I. and leave, they can. There’s no compulsion…
We did an experiment where we gave them hot dogs some of the time and praise some of the time. 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.
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.
Another thing that we’ve learned by showing pictures of objects and people to the dogs is that they have dedicated parts of their brain for processing faces. So dogs are in many ways wired to process faces.
This means that dogs aren’t just learning from being around us that human faces are important — they are born to look at faces. This wasn’t known before…