Neuroscientist: Dogs are People, Too

Oct. 9, 2013


Berns book“Dogs are people, too,” states Gregory Berns, professor of neuroeconomics, in a Sunday, October 6, 2013 New York Times op-ed. He describes his research team's efforts to study brain function in dogs using MRI scans. But instead of sedating the animals to keep them absolutely immobile in the loud, confined MRI unit, they trained them to enter the massive doughnut-shaped machine and lie still of their own accord.

“From the beginning, we treated the dogs as persons,” he wrote. “We had a consent form, which was modeled after a child’s consent form but signed by the dog’s owner. We emphasized that participation was voluntary, and that the dog had the right to quit the study. We used only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn’t want to be in the MRI scanner, they could leave. Same as any human volunteer.”

Testing unsedated dogs is important, explained Berns, because the effect of anesthetics would cloud the test results. So far the researchers have trained and scanned a dozen dogs—his own rescue dog, Callie, was the first.

“Although we are just beginning to answer basic questions about the canine brain,” Berns continued, “we cannot ignore the striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus. . . . Perhaps someday we may see a case arguing for a dog’s rights based on brain-imaging findings.”

To read the entire article, click here.

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