Can Dogs Love? Part 3
Because of my experience rescuing Lance and writing a book about him, I put together a PowerPoint presentation entitled In Defense of Dogs. I give this presentation wherever I can—libraries, schools, senior centers, YMCAs, etc. I’ve (hopefully) made it part humorous, part educational. In one section of the presentation, I refer to the Jon Katz newspaper interview I recently posted on Lance’s blog. I then go to the following brief description of some scientific testing that has been conducted on dogs:
“In 2013-2014, animal cognition scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and also scientists in Hungary all conducted studies on dogs utilizing MRI machines. They used positive reinforcement to train the dogs to remain motionless, no mean feat in itself. The studies focused on an area of the brain called the caudate nucleus where emotions can be measured in both dogs and humans. The results? Hand signals indicating food, smells of familiar people and other dogs, the return of a familiar human and hearing the voice of a familiar person (not just someone who fed the dog) all triggered activity in the dogs’ caudate nucleus. Any hints of their owners took priority over everyone and everything else's smell.
Further objective findings: other domestic animals tend to run when scared/ worried, dogs typically seek out their owner. Dogs are the only non-primate animal to seek eye contact from humans and, like humans and other primates, dogs can distinguish faces. Women's brain activity increases in areas such as emotion, reward, affiliation, visual processing and social interaction when they looked at photos of their own children and pet dogs versus looking at photos of unknown children and dogs. When shown photos of familiar and strange faces, dogs also prefer faces they know. I couldn’t find any similar studies involving men.
Humans and dogs boost each other's level of oxytocin—the "love hormone" responsible for feelings of affection—with eye to eye contact. It's been said that dogs “hug” with their eyes.”
Here’s a link to an updated report on these test results:
It’s worth looking at just for the photo alone!
In fairness to Mr. Katz, his interview with the Chicago Tribune was conducted a few years before any of these studies had been done.
When writing Lance: A Spirit Unbroken, I did my best to make it clear that I was not in any way, shape or form a dog expert. I have neither training nor college education in any field relating to animals in general or dogs in particular. I do make the claim of being an expert at handling one particular semi-feral border collie named Lance. That skill—and my lack of any professional expertise in things canine—are both on display in Lance: A Spirit Unbroken. In next month’s blog I will offer anecdotal—not scientific—evidence that a dog, even an ornery one like Lance, can indeed love.
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Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).
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