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Neuropolicy Expert Probes Dogs’ Thinking

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I woke up this morning to find an interesting article in a national science magazine that promised great new revelations as to the thoughts and emotions of man’s perpetual “best friend.” I immediately decided to write up some opining on the matter for Blogcritics. My curiosity was aroused to the breaking point. As a dog owner and lover of dogs dating back to my early adolescence, I have often wondered what our canine partners are thinking about, day to day. Do they worry about our place in the universe; about how we got here? Do they wonder what we good natured humans are thinking about? If they could, would they encourage the grey and brown squirrels not to worry if summer is slow in coming? Maybe they know things we only wonder about! Is there a God?

I rather hoped the study from Emory University might add some insight and enlightenment. The experimenter, Gregory Berns, director of the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy (the science of human decision making) became aware of dogs in the military, and their ability to jump out of helicopters and airplanes, and so he gleaned they might be able to sit still for MRI scanning. He further noted that dog subjects responded to hot-dog bits rewards.

So fascinated was Berns that canine participants could enter the MRI scanner, that, at this point, I had to wonder about the scientist’s over-all understanding of the canine population. Noteworthy, Berns discerns that dogs are unique in the universe. “The dog’s brain represents something special about how humans and animals came together. It’s possible that dogs have even affected human evolution.” Berns said. In what may make cat people uncomfortable, Berns maintains that there are “No other animals like dogs!”

Experimenter Berns and his colleagues used a pair of young canines for their testing: Callie, a two year old squirrel hunter, and McKenzie, a three year old Border Collie. The dogs were trained to recognize hand signals. A left hand, pointing down, meant a hot dog treat was forthcoming. Two hands pointing toward one another indicated “no treat.” Not surprisingly, the dogs picked up on the signals and treats with some alacrity.

Berns, a modern day Pavlov, conjectured, “These results indicate that dogs pay very close attention to human signals. And these signals may have a direct line to the dog’s reward system.” The experimenter didn’t seem ready to publish any bold new revelations, nor any groundbreaking insights; just that dogs are unique. I had hoped for more.

I have often wondered about the thoughts of those Galapagos Island tortoises. They live to beyond 100 years. So do some parrots. God or evolution I’m sure wouldn’t allow a creature to be bored to the core for that length of time. They must be thinking something. Maybe the good Berns will turn his attention in their direction.

I don’t mean to disdain Berns and his crew, or the funding for the study of “decision making,” but again, I had hoped for more.

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About John Lake

John Lake had a long and successful career in legitimate and musical theater. He moved up into work behind the camera at top motion pictures. He has done a smattering of radio, and television John joined the Blogcritics field of writers owing to a passion for the liberal press, himself speaking out about the political front, and liberal issues. Now the retired Mr. Lake has entered the field of motion picture, television, and video game (now a daily gamer!) critique. His writing is always innovative and immensely readable!
  • Dogs are loyal to their owners. They sense danger and bark. They have a time clock early and late in the day. A dog can sense when you are coming-sometimes even a block away. These animals are loyal to the bitter end.

  • I enjoyed this, John. I have also had dogs my whole life, and I know they are thoughtful souls. You can see emotions on a dog’s face. They read us much better than we read others.

    I also think dogs see what we can’t see. When my mother died, I am certain my dogs were seeing her in the house when we could not.

    Hopefully, more of these studies will come. I already know the answer though!