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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Absolutely no animal should be considered property that needs to be changed they
need the same rights as humans have. And yes they do show emotions whether
its a dog or cat, the same as humans. Lets step up and do what is right for them!

Jane Davidson

How can any human be so presumptuous as to think that animals do not feel and do not have emotions? Without the same sensory systems and receptors, no member of the animal kingdom would survive, and we are all members.

Janet Ulmer

I could go on and on about this subject. I am a supporter of animal welfare - not animal rights. That being said, I believe all creatures (human and otherwise) should be treated with respect. I have witnessed emotions in both wild and domestic animals, so I do believe they have them. Are they as "developed" as our own - I do not know. That being said, I believe it was not too terribly long ago that we realized that humans come in all shapes and colors. Perhaps one day in the not too distant future we will learn that animals are merely different from us in appearance and language, but otherwise, not different at all.

Beth Hogle

Anyone who has been close to an animal cannot deny that they experience feelings deeply. I have always believed that we have been put on this earth to protect God's gifts; animal, plant and human. We should act in the best interest of all living things. I do believe that an animal's legal status / protection should be changed. It is our responsibility to protect those that are weaker than us. Just think... if we all learned to love and respect animals how much more likely we would be to love and respect each other.


If someone has it inside them to hurt, punch, stab, kill a helpless animal, they have it inside them to do the same to you. They should be prosecuted for the crime regardless if it is a helpless animal or helpless human.


I think that dogs absolutely have emotions, and that there need to be MUCH stronger protections for them under the law. There should be much more humane treatment in shelters and stronger laws regarding dog ownership and treatment. Dogs, however, are not a self sufficient species. They have been domesticated for around 40,000 years and are no longer equipped to be left in the wild. They are meant to be companions, but that does not mean they are meant to be slaves. We owe them our protection, and our respect for the complex and wonderful creatures that they are.

As a side note: animal abuse should be punished right under child abuse, it takes the same sick mind to do it, and it is an indicator of serious underlying issues and a tendency to hurt, leading to further crimes.

Veronica Vargas

I strongly believe that dogsshould be protected with the same rights as children. Unfortunately, like children, dogs & other family pets can be abused & if there are no laws to defend the ones that cannot speak for themselves, then somebody needs to be their voice. Children & animals are vonurable beings & should be treated wit the same respect & should have the same rights (to a point that is). But if you torture & kill a dog, it should come with the same consequences as if a child was tortured & abuse.

They both have feelings & suffer when mistreated & hurt when hit. Even verbal abuse has a HUGE effect on animals, just as children.

Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if we could claim our dogs as dependants :) Now, not saying that a horder can claim 30 dogs, 105 cats, etc. There should be some sort of limitation, just like I believe there should be a point where people cannot keep claiming welfare & keep having kids. But don't get me started on that one.

So final answer. HECK YES! and maybe we can start with therapy dogs that act as nursemaids. If it were not for these fantastic dogs, a lot of our Veterans would not be here with us.

Check out Shelter Me ( they have a great program where they take dogs from shelters, either strays or ones that were surrendered that find could be a good fit & then have them trained to become therapy dogs by inmates at a women's prison where these dogs spend 24/7 with these women. Not only are the lives or many good dogs (even those that have obviously have signs of fighting) as well as the lives of the inmates. They both get a sense of purpose. The dogs are eager to please since this is the most attention they have ever gotten in their lives & the women learn that there is love & somebody needs them as well & also get rehabilitated along with learning a trade that they love & can be of great use once they get out.

They have had a study that a huge percentage (highest ever I believe) of non-return offenders once they go through this program.

And the best part, at the end of it all, a dog finds a forever home & saves the lives of those they are matched with. It is a win win situation for all!

OK, guess I've said my piece.

Thank you for reading.


I am not sure why whether or not they experience emotions "like we do" is relevant and what that really has to do with legitimizing or refuting these animals as "property." The fact is, they clearly DO experience emotion--fear, shame, contentment, attachment (call it love, drooling anticipation for food, whatever...they still feel a profound attachment to those who care for them), and they feel psychological and physical pain when they are mistreated.

If being regarded legally as only "property" allows them to be mistreated at the "owner's" whim, then that needs to be changed because, if not anything else, WE feel emotions and somewhere in there should be empathy and a sense of shame for even thinking this is okay.


I know animals have feelings. I've seen for myself cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, horses, and mini goats all express love, sadness, grief, joy, and empathy....for us and for each other. If not for my pets I don't know how I would have gotten through the deaths of my grandparents, father, and cousin over the years. You can look into their eyes and see the intelligence there. They show empathy with how they treat you when you are sad or depressed. I've even seen my dog cry in grief after our other dog died suddenly. I've seen her come get our attention and lead us to the other dog, then sit by quietly (which was unusual for this hyper dog) while we tended him during his epileptic seizures. And the gentleness she showed him after a seizure was touching to witness. The dog I had later on grieved for six months after our cat died, after being together for over 12 years (they played, ate, and slept together).
Anyone who has ever had a pet knows without a doubt they feel. Their intelligence might be that of a 4-10 year old, but 4-10 year old children have feelings, so why shouldn't our pets? They deserve the same protections as our children do.


Totally agree! Meanwhile, the savages in China continue to slaughter and abuse pretty much anything that moves(including dogs & cats) for their fur and as food!? How depraved does a society have to be to consider that "normal human behavior"?! I love and respect animals far more than most people I have met on this earth and the pets and animals I have known mostly deserve MORE rights than humans, not fewer!:/