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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Susan B

Thank you for a clear, well thought out, and entirely correct statement. Unfortunately, many humans can't even seem to accord each other the status of "person", much less any other being. I believe the problem is even worse than anthropocentric thinking; look what humans do to other humans who don't think exactly as they do (maim, murder, oppress, etc.). When you get right to the bottom of it, the problem seems to be the attitude that "NO ONE is as important as ME, and most of you (people, animals) don't matter at all." I read about some interesting research that indicated as much as 4% of the population may be sociopathic; don't know how good the science is, but I don't see anything to contraindicate the findings.


It is equally appalling that other human beings don't already know this and deeply satisfying that you have said what many do know in their own hearts and minds. Thank you for taking the time to put it in words as it may bring a raising of consciousness and grace for our differently abled family members


I've seen jealousy, saddness, happiness, and anger. I've seen it all. You don't have to be a scientist or a genious to figure out that dogs have emotions or that ANIMALS have emotions. You just have to be around them. We humans have to question whether or not another living creature actually FEELS???? Really???? Sorry but I'm not that arrogant. Yes. Other living things have emotion. We live, therefore we feel. SIMPLE.


Well said Michelle!

Lynda H.

VERY good!!!


Well said!

Rex K. Thomas

When I'm petting and hugging my male Siberian Husky, He cries with so much emotion, you can feel his love and affection. He gets so affectionate it's almost embarrassing!

Alexander Siegfried

It's not embarassing at all! Be proud and happy about him and love him back!

donna and lonni...

I agree that dogs, cats, and other animals ahve emotionos. They should all not be just considered property. They need protection.


We know that animals feel pain, hunger & weather related feelings so WHY wouldnt they have Some sort of emotions? Might not be what we as humans feel but they feel something. Anyone that is a animal lover has at some time known how their pet is "feeling" by interacting with them or looking at them. I know when I look at any of my 5 cats or 4 dogs what their "emotion" is. People just dont realize that regardless, animals have memories & feelings, they have family ties or at least pack/herd ties, or a loyality (lack of better word) to them. Humans are just more vocal.