By Peter Chianca
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It says something about how much we value our relationship with dogs that scientists were willing to go through the trouble of training them to sit still in an MRI machine so they could scan their brains. I know from experience that training your dog to do anything that requires more than a few seconds of concentration is not easy, unless you’re talking about smelling dead things or barking at outer space, which they can do for hours on end with no encouragement whatsoever.
But according to mic.com, scientists at Emory University were successful at getting dogs to sit still for the scans, and as a result we now know something that we’ve suspected and hoped for thousands of years: that our dogs love us.
And it’s not a casual, fleeting, Kim Kardashian-and-that-basketball-player kind of love: I’m talking about a deep-seated, soulmate-style, “he saved me in every way that a person can be saved” Titanic-level relationship.
The article explains that when presented with various smells, the dogs “prioritized the hint of [their] humans over anything or anyone else.” And not only that, when their humans made what the scientists called “happy sounds” -- presumably saying “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?” over and over again, possibly while holding their jowls -- the pleasure centers of their brains shifted into overdrive.
So in other words, their enthused reaction isn’t just their way of hoping there’s a cookie in their near future; when you walk into the room, their brains practically start singing “You Light Up My Life” at full volume. To quote “Fiddler on the Roof,” if that’s not love, what is?
What the findings show is that the human-dog relationship is basically one of a kind. The researchers even point out that dogs are the only non-primates to look humans in the eye, although I could swear I’ve seen my cats do that, sort of in the way that a chess master looks into the eyes of his opponent looking for that one inner weakness that will leave him vulnerable to utter humiliation.
But maybe equally significant is what the researchers found out about human brains. Apparently those same happy sounds “light up the auditory cortex in both species” -- in other words, we’re as giddy in love with them as they are with us. They even showed mothers pictures of both dogs and babies, and each type of photo sparked the same level of positive brain activity. So dogs and babies make us equally happy -- but with dogs, you never have to pay for college! I’m just saying.
I know in our own household, my wife spends a good portion of every day directing happy sounds at our four dogs, often to the chagrin of my son, who’s trying to parse the vagaries of “Impractical Jokers” on TruTV. The dogs couldn’t be any more clear in showing their undying affection in response, often climbing up on her under the obvious delusion that they’re shih tzus shipped in directly from Imperial China, as opposed to the overweight Labradors and golden retrievers that they are in real life.
And I guess that’s what matters in the end: Not that science has proven that our dogs love us, but that we didn’t really NEED it to. Anyone who’s ever been around a dog knows that what we’ve got going on with our furry friends is the real deal.
Although it certainly doesn’t hurt to keep some cookies around, just in case.
A version of this article was posted on Pete’s Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog at northofboston.wickedlocal.com/section/blogs. Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at @pchianca. Email him at email@example.com.
Peter Chianca: Our dogs do love us - it’s science!
By Peter Chianca