Dogs, Emotions and "Personhood"

Monday, October 14, 2013 - 4:00pm
grey and white pitbull wearing purple collar

On October 5, The New York Times published an opinion piece by Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, about his two-year study of brain activity in conscious pet canines. (Rest assured, no dogs were harmed: “We used only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn’t want to be in the M.R.I. scanner, they could leave.”)

For Berns, who found that positive anticipation (of food or familiar people, etc.) stems from the same part of the brain in both humans and dogs, the study’s takeaway is “Dogs are people, too.” This leads him to question the righteousness of dogs’ current legal status: “[We] can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs, and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives), seem to have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.”

This week the website posted a great follow-up article that expands on the concept of “personhood” for animals and quotes the ASPCA’s own Stacy Wolf, Senior Vice President, Anti-Cruelty Group—read it here.

What Do You Think?
We want to hear your take on this debate. Should dogs be given the same legal protections as people, or is it right to continue to categorize them as “property”? In what ways have your own dogs shown you that they have emotions? Have your say in our comments section, below.

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Obviously a hot topic! To those who value non-human animals, especially dogs, this comes as no surprise, and it is heartening to begin to have scientific evidence. I agree that much more needs to be done to establish "proof." The biggest hurdle to overcome will result from terminology - most humans can't equate non-humans to themselves, which is why cruelty and carelessness is even possible. However, just as the "civil union" has evolved to same sex marriage, I believe this issue will resolve in a way favorable to humans and non-humans. Modest goals push evolution of thought and custom, and I know this won't happen in my lifetime. Still, it is good to know that we are laying some of the groundwork by changing our own thinking about our relationship to non-humans. I consider myself a guardian of the animals that live with me and never look at them as pets.

Chevelle M

Well its about time that we take this issue seriously, I have NEVER thought of my pets as property or just some object that lacked life itself!!! Not that I needed a study to confirm that dogs (and other animals as well) have emotions, hell even my guinea pig displayed emotions. Many people thought I was absolutely crazy for talking to my pets, relating to them on various levels they could not comprehend even though the "owned" pets themselves. I am not a pet owner but a person who has the privilege of being in relationship with animals! We have all seen our pets smile, pout, even mourn, what more evidence is needed? Animals can have more emotions than some people I know! Now the hard part is persuading people who have never connected with a beloved pet to understand that this is real. Perhaps our pets will eventually reach that status but until then, I'll continue to love my pets as I do my people!!!


Of course dogs have emotions and intelligence, but 'personhood' by definition is reserved for persons. This study's conclusions, as has been pointed out, do point towards anthropomorphism and logical fallacy. It's been shown that an effectively programmed computer can simulate a 'person' enough to fool another human...does that mean continuing advances in programming and AI response could allow to achieve 'personhood'? Dolphins have long been known to be highly intelligent, interactive creatures, should they be ahead of dogs in the 'personhood' granting line? And what absolute and total arrogance to assume that they even WANT 'personhood'. What gives you the right to speak for another species? Since Man has dominion over the creatures of the world, it's our responsibility to care for ALL of them...not try to remake them in our image.


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You mean that a professor at Emery U. is just now saying animals have emotions,where have you been. If you have a family member-dog,cat etc.- and haven't seen emotions already in them then maybe your not paying enough attention to there actions. There like us and treat them so. As for laws,this is your family,your loyal friend,they complete you,treat them justly.

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