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A Neuroscientist Tells Us What Your Dog Is Really Thinking

A dog named "JC" smiles for the camera while his owner holds back. (Benjgibbs/Creative Commons)
A dog named "JC" smiles for the camera while his owner holds back. (Benjgibbs/Creative Commons)

With guest host Jane Clayson.

What it’s like to be a dog. We talk with animal neuroscientist Gregory Berns.

There are more dogs in this country than children. Sometimes they are the dearest, truest friend in a human’s life. Or a beloved member of the family –the baby, the dutiful eldest child, the parent’s loyal old friend. But in a relationship where the human does all the talking, how do we know, really know, what’s going on a dog’s mind? Well, one dog-loving neuroscientist has some answers. This hour, On Point: What it’s like to be a dog. — Jane Clayson.


Dr. Gregory Berns, director of the Center for Neuropolicy and a professor at Emory University’s Computation and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab. Author of “What It’s Like to Be a Dog –And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience.” (@gberns)

From The Reading List

The New York Times: Gregory Berns Knows What Your Dog Is Thinking (It’s Sweet) — “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.”

National Geographic: Dogs Have Feelings—Here’s How We Know — “Scientists find it hard to accept the idea that animals have feelings. Most people who live with dogs understand this intuitively. The confusion comes because we have language and can label those feelings. We have words for things like love, fear, sadness, or guilt. Everything we started doing to elicit positive emotions showed that dogs had corresponding parts of their brains to humans.”

Time: How Smart Is a Dog Really? The Secrets of a Canine Mind — “Our curiosity about dogs will always be driven mostly by our love for dogs. Berns believes that it was juveniles on both sides of the human-dog divide that were responsible for initiating the interspecies bond. Wolf pups would be the ones likeliest to approach and appeal to early nomadic humans; and girls and boys–then and now–are the humans who love puppies most. Dogs are like us in their joy and empathy and inexhaustible curiosity, and we–at least when we’re in their presence–become more like them. We are both better species for our very long union.”

Test Your Dog’s IQ

Follow this link to find more information about testing your dog’s IQ.

Read An Excerpt From ‘What It’s Like To Be A Dog’

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