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How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain Hardcover – October 22, 2013
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A Wall Street Journal bestseller.
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.
How Dogs Love Us answers the age-old question of dog lovers everywhere and offers profound new evidence that dogs should be treated as we would treat our best human friends: with love, respect, and appreciation for their social and emotional intelligence.
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"A neuroscientist wonders what goes on in the minds of our pet dogs: Do we delude ourselves when we believe that they love us? [How Dogs Love Us is] a solid introduction to an appealing new area of research." —Kirkus
"The book is as much a scientific exploration of how the canine brain might function as it is a deeply personal story about Berns's relationship with dogs as pets and colleagues. Ultimately that connection is what makes the book compelling." —Scientific American MIND
“Thoroughly enjoyable and edifying…Five out of five stars…highly recommended.” —Your Dog
"In the fascinating book How Dogs Love Us, [Berns] recounts the methods his team employed, and how their pet dogs made these groundbreaking studies possible. There’s much to learn in this engrossing read." —Bark Magazine
“Neuroscientist Gregory Berns studies dog brains to answer that eternal question: Do our dogs really love us?” —Men’s Journal “The journey Berns and his team embarked on, and are continuing, is as remarkable as the study’s conclusions to date. Berns proves what most pet lovers have always known. Our dogs are much like us.” —The Akron Beacon Journal
"How Dogs Love Us is a fascinating account of a scientist's tenacious pursuit of the unknown. Gregory Berns's account of his lab's Dog Project provides readers with new insights into the minds of our most loyal companions while also reminding us that scientific research should be approached with passion, love, and a bold disregard for the possibility of failure." —Dan Ariely, author of The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty
"An exciting journey to the center of a dog's emotional mind. Berns offers hilarious descriptions of training his dog to lie still while being fed hot dogs in the MRI brain-scan machine." —Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human
"With infectious passion for dogs, science, life, and love, Gregory Berns takes us on a rollicking yet scientifically serious study of the mental life of dogs-what dogs understand and how they think. Berns's tale is a dramatic but very funny look at how real, grubby science can accomplish great things. This is dognitive science at its insightful, passionate, and playful best." —Patricia Churchland, author of Touching a Nerve
"How Dogs Love Us is the beautifully written story of an iconoclastic neuroscientist challenging the status quo and seeking to truly understand the dogs with whom we share our lives." —Jennifer Arnold, author of Through a Dog's Eyes
"Amazingly entertaining and super smart. In How Dogs Love Us, Gregory Berns gives us our first real look inside the brain of a dog, while simultaneously setting new standards in ethical science. A truly great read!" —Steven Kotler, author of A Small Furry Prayer
"Gregory Berns's book, packed with solid scientific research and warm personal stories, will set the agenda for future research on the minds and emotional lives of animals." —Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals
"Fast, fun, and funny, Gregory Berns demonstrates scientifically that dogs are people, too." —Laurence Gonzales, author of Surviving Survival
"Gregory Berns's amusing story about his dogs, his daughters, and a giant magnet communicates as no other what fun science can be." —Frans de Waal, author of The Bonobo and the Atheist
"This book lets you see inside the mind of a dog as never before. How Dogs Love Us will revolutionize how we understand animals—especially our dogs. This is a must-read for animal lovers and neuroscientists alike."—Brian Hare, author of The Genius of Dogs
“Berns is an excellent writer. His explanations of the scientific thinking behind the Dog Project (as he calls his experiment) are crisp and clear and accessible to a nonscientist without being condescending…Some of the best parts of How Dogs Love Us, though, are about the questions, not the answers. In his account of the slow, meticulous, day-to-day process of creating a scientific study, Berns has produced one of the best accounts of how science is "done."” —Chicago Reader
"How Dogs Love Us makes a thought-provoking and often humorous case for something canine lovers have suspected for years: dogs are not simply 'Pavlovian learning machines' but, rather, sentient beings with a high level of empathy and an affinity for social learning. In answering his original question, he sparks many more about how we value and care for our canine companions." -Kirsten Galles, Shelf Awareness
“Berns’s book is a beautiful story about dogs, love and neurology that shows how nonhuman relationships are inspiring researches to look at animals in new ways, for their benefit and ours.” —Rebecca Skloot, New York Times Book Review
- Publisher : New Harvest; 1st edition (October 22, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0544114515
- ISBN-13 : 978-0544114517
- Item Weight : 15.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.92 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #186,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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This led inevitably to training the newest addition to their family of six (two adults, two daughters, two dogs) a terrier mix they named Callie, to enter an MRI, assume a scannable position, and remain motionless for long enough intervals for useful brain scans.
Just getting the necessary permissions and approvals to bring pet dogs, rather than "purpose-bred dogs," mostly beagles bred only to be lab animals, into the lab or even onto Emory University property, was a challenge. There are good reasons, for many kinds of research, for using purpose-bred animals, including dogs. It's not the best choice in every case, though, and for at least thirty years the trend has been to eliminate research animals altogether whenever there are alternatives that give good results. Real alternatives to animal haven't yet reached to point of making lab animals completely unnecessary, but the need has been dramatically reduced over the course of my working life.
And while this particular research project necessarily involved real dogs, there was no need at all for them to be purpose-bred lab animals. Pet dogs calm enough to be trained for the MRI tests were arguably a better choice, because they would have a more normal relationship with humans, and that's what "the dog project" was all about.
So Berns kept pushing, and inventing work-arounds for the demands of the research office and the legal office, and got his project approved.
Then came figuring out to train his own terrier mix, Callie, and a border collie, McKenzie, to accept the MRI, the noise of the MRI, and keeping still in the correct position for the scans. All this just to get to the proof of concept stage, proving they could do useful MRI scans on animals as different from the normal MRI subjects (humans and other primates) as dogs are.
And it's unexpectedly fun to read this section, before they ever get to the tests they want--can they tell from brain scans whether dogs actually like humans, and not just the fact that we're a reliable source of food and toys?
It's a great account, further enlivened by Callie herself, the Berns family, and the other Berns dogs, both Lyra the Golden retriever they had at the same time as Callie, and the pugs, especially Newton, who preceded them. And yet, that leads to the one part of this book that bothered me.
The other standout personality here besides Callie, is Newton. Pugs are generally happy, affectionate personalities, really great companion dogs. Except, of course, for the fact that their skulls are so short and their faces so flat that often they can't breathe properly. The snorting, the snuffling, the snoring, that many people, including Gregory Berns, think is so cute, is in fact a sign of a dog who is suffering from not breathing properly. It's not fun to breathe that badly. It's exhausting, compromises sleep, is at best uncomfortable and often painful.
This is something that can be avoided, or at least greatly minimized, by being really careful in selecting a breeder to get your dog from. But the Berns family prefers to adopt from shelters, which is good and much to be encouraged--but if you adopt pug or another brachcephalic dog from a shelter or rescue, and you have, like the Berns family, an at least upper middle class income, you should be asking your vet, first thing, whether a soft palette resection is right for your dog. If your dog is one of the dogs of this type that has significant difficulty breathing, and you have the resources, you should be talking to your vet about whether your dog can be helped. It may not be possible in every case, but when, like Gregory Berns, you know that "cute" snorting and snoring is in fact very hard on your dog, you ought to at least talk to your vet about possible help for the problem. And yet Berns, who clearly really loves his dogs, and who tells us that Newton couldn't breathe properly and it was a problem for the poor dog, never mentions talking to the vet about it.
I really do feel that even if Newton couldn't be helped, Berns could have devoted a paragraph to telling people that the snorting and snoring isn't cute, and that if they have the means they should at least talk to their vet about it. He doesn't.
This is a really good book about research that any dog lover will love.
I should, in fairness, warn those who need to know that yes, dogs, including Newton and later Lyra, the Golden retriever, do die during the book. But these are the deaths at a reasonable age of dogs who were loved and happy members of their family. They're not awful tragedies that come out of nowhere to smack you in the face for the sake of extracting emotion from you.
And yes, you will love the research and its results.
I bought this audiobook.
So, what exactly is the topic of this book? Berns states, "It all comes down to reciprocity. If the dog-human relationship is predominantly one-sided, with humans projecting their thoughts onto the dog vacuously staring up at this master in the hopes of receiving a doggie treat, then the dog is not much better than a big teddy bear -- a warm, soft, comforting object. But what if the dog reciprocates in the relationship? Do dogs have some concept of humans as something more than food dispensers? Simply knowing that human feelings toward dogs are reciprocated in some way, even if only partially, changes everything. It would mean that dog-human relationships belong on the same plane as human-human relationships. None of these questions can be answered simply by observing dogs' behavior." That is the question that Berns addresses, and that is the perspective that he addresses it from. Again, I disagree that observation doesn't give answers. I'll also venture a guess that Berns' dog is more attached to him and he is to her. Throughout the book, he comes across as stiff and out of touch with his emotions.
For those unfamiliar with shaping as a training method, the descriptions of training Callie and McKenzie to stay still in the MRI would be an interesting read, but there's little new here for those who already know shaping. Also, chapter 12 has info on the benefits of dogs at work.
Further evidence of the author's handicap when it comes to understanding dogs. He's vacationing with his family, including the two dogs. I'll let him take it from there, "I looked at Callie. Her prey instinct was on red alert. She sat stiffly at the end of the leash, head like a periscope, twisting in lightning fast jerks toward every sound and motion in the woods. She looked up at me and whimpered. I didn't need an MRI to know what she wanted. She wanted to be off-leash like Lyra. Figuring she would hang around the picnic spread that Kat had been setting up, I reached down to unclip her. The world seemed to spin down. As I pulled back on the leash clip, Kat screamed out in slow motion "Nooooo!" With the opening of the clip, everything kicked into motion. With that telltale click, Callie knew she was free. She never looked back...." I think most of us could have foretold that, as Kat did, but not the author. I think he mistakes his inability to read dog body language as a universal trait, which it is not.
Top reviews from other countries
This is primarily why i read this book. I have five dogs. I know a lot about them as individuals just from living closely with them, but I've always wondered about the extent of their cognition ... do they even see me as someone other than a food dispenser who they need to be nice to. Berns' book is based on his carefully constructed study from the beginning to the results and conclusions ... and convinced me of some very interesting features of dogs and their ability to think.
On top of the fascinating study and results, Berns is a great writer and researcher and he loves his dogs! ... which you can see does not bias his results or interpretations because of the very careful writing ... which is also a very good example of how ethical and responsible research should be carried out.
There were instances, and quite a few, where i wondered about the relevance of some of the topics, but as i read on the relevance became clear. The discourse is carefully constructed creating a complete picture of the context of the research and making it a much more enjoyable text to read than it otherwise would have been as a research report.
His description of the procedure needed to carry out the research and the training of the dogs was fascinating and at the same time raises difficult questions about traditional research methods which use animals as data sources. Among all the other things his study shows, it also shows that ethical research can be carried out if we care enough to ensure the animals are treated with as much respect as we would treat human participants.
There are many many implications from the study reported in this book ... not to mention the results from the actual study, which are fascinating.
I highly recommend it!
A fantastic read.