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How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Dog Decode the Canine Brain

Popular Science
A neuroscientist finally and definitively answers the age-old question: What is my dog thinking?

By: Gregory Berns(Author)

248 pages, b/w photos

Scribe Publications

Paperback | Jan 2014 | #211247 | ISBN-13: 9781922247315
Availability: Usually dispatched within 48 hours
NHBS Price: £12.99 $17/€14 approx
Hardback | Oct 2013 | #209391 | ISBN-13: 9780544114517
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1 week Details
NHBS Price: £21.99 $28/€24 approx

About this book

The powerful bond between humans and dogs is one that's uniquely cherished. Loyal, obedient, and affectionate, they are truly "man's best friend." But do dogs love us the way we love them? Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns had spent decades using MRI imaging technology to study how the human brain works, but a different question still nagged at him: What is my dog thinking?

After his family adopted Callie, a shy, skinny terrier mix, Berns decided that there was only one way to answer that question – use an MRI machine to scan the dog's brain. His colleagues dismissed the idea. Everyone knew that dogs needed to be restrained or sedated for MRI scans. But if the military could train dogs to operate calmly in some of the most challenging environments, surely there must be a way to train dogs to sit in an MRI scanner.

With this radical conviction, Berns and his dog would embark on a remarkable journey and be the first to glimpse the inner workings of the canine brain. Painstakingly, the two worked together to overcome the many technical, legal, and behavioral hurdles. Berns's research offers surprising results on how dogs empathize with human emotions, how they love us, and why dogs and humans share one of the most remarkable friendships in the animal kingdom.

"A neuroscientist wonders what goes on in the minds of our pet dogs: Do we delude ourselves when we believe that they love us? "It all comes down to reciprocity," writes Berns (Neuroeconomics/Emory Univ.; Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently, 2008, etc.). Are dogs simply conditioned to greet us enthusiastically, in the expectation of obtaining treats? Obviously, we can't answer the question of what it is like to be a dog, but we can explore the similarities between their brains and those of humans, using modern techniques for imaging the brain. As the director of a laboratory, the author, using fMRI, studies the neurological basis for human decision-making. A devoted pet lover as well as a dedicated scientist, Berns' determination to probe a dog's mental life was catalyzed when he saw a photo of a member of the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden parachuting from a helicopter while holding his dog. The image reinforced his conviction that "dogs and humans belong together [and cannot] exist without each other." With agreement from the university and members of his research team, Berns decided to do an off-budget project to see what brain scans could tell about the way dogs think. For the project to succeed, however, they would need to accustom dogs to entering the machine and lying still. Using his own dog as the first subject, the author chronicles the deepening bond between them during the training. Brain scans of his dog and another canine subject showed that the area of their brains activated in anticipation of a treat is the same as in human subjects anticipating a reward of some kind. While the results are not definitive, Berns believes he "saw direct evidence of reciprocation in the dog-human relationship and social cognition in the canine brain." A solid introduction to an appealing new area of research. For a useful complementary read, check out John Pilley's Chaser"

- Kirkus Reviews (10/01/2013)


Prologue: Dress Rehearsal xii

1. Dia de los Muertos 1
2. What It's Like to Be a Dog 13
3. A Fishing Expedition 21
4. Puppy Steps 31
5. The Scanner Dilemma 41
6. Resonant Dogs 48
7. Lawyers Get Involved 56
8. The Simulator 68
9. Basic Training 75
10. The Stand-In 87
11. The Carrot or the Stick? 97
12. Dogs at Work 105
13. The Lost Wedding Ring 114
14. Big Questions 125
15. Dog Day Afternoon 134
16. A New World 150
17. Peas and Hot Dogs 158
18. Through a Dog's Eyes 168
19. Eureka! 179
20. Does My Dog Love Me? 186
21. What's That Smell? 195
22. First Friend 206
23. Lyra 215
24. What Dogs Are Really Thinking 225

Epilogue 234
Notes 241
Acknowledgments 247"

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Gregory Berns, M.D., Ph.D., is the Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University. Dr. Berns's research is frequently the subject of popular media coverage, including articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

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