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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"the savages of China", "How depraved does a society have to be to consider that 'normal human behavior'?"
Have you looked at how the "depraved, savages" of the United States treat our animals? We are no better and no different than the people of China. While we certainly are more compassionate & considerate when it comes to dogs & cats, we treat cows, pigs, etc just as they do their cats & dogs--like nothing. Furthermore, who do you think are buying these furs & food--Americans.
While I share your utter disgust & moral stance related to the treatment of dogs & cats in China, I do not see their actions as any worse or seperate from us, Americans. Furthermore, as you are obviously someone who cares deeply for animals--it would behoove you to tailor your responses as much as possible to be less judgmental so that your view is well received & considered. The more people that see animals as we do the better, but less people will be open to listen when an entire region is singled out.

Linda S

As it goes in our society, studies are a necessary evil if you are going to change treatment and acquire rights and protections for dogs. Amongst dog owners, it is common knowledge dogs have a myriad of emotions. Yes, I believe dogs should be given the same protections as people.


Yes ,pets/dogs do have feelings since they are a living creature.Every living creature who has a heart does feel all the emotions we humans have.There is a difference though.Animals/dogs have the gift of loving unconditionally like children do.Grown ups/humans have too much logic,a cerebral personality and love with strings attached.Animals/pets should receive full protection as children receive.I hope to go to pets/animal heaven if I can choose.

Diane Carroll

I feel that dogs and cats perhaps are more intelligent than we are. They seem to not only understand us verbally, no matter what language is being used, but they also seem to have a sixth sense about many other things that most humans do not have.


I believe dogs, particularly my two, have the same emotions as humans. I watched my English Setter go through real grief after my husband passed away. My dogs and cats are in my will. I know people will say, okay, only twelve were tested etc, etc, etc. Well you don't need a herd to test and if people would just watch their own animals, I believe they would see, that yes they do have emotions. Maybe some dogs who are not treated well may act differently - but that does not mean they don't have emotions (probably anger, confusion, and abandonment issues from the abuse or being ignored, pushed away, etc.)

Alexander Siegfried

Aye, Dogs and all creatures should be given the same rights as people. Seeing another living being as property is slavery, and slavery is wrong. Equal rights for all living beings, not just humans.

Kathi Mann

They absolutely deserve the same protection as an human.

Rebecca Gale-Go...

Everyday I see emotions very clearly expressed by my animals. There is jealousy, love, joy... When I recently had to put down my dog due to a burst of a cancerous tumor in my dogs heart I was devastated. He showed me his fear, I have no doubt that he knew the end was near. I am always appalled at the neglect I see with animals and they may not be inherently human, but they deserve humane treatment. I think they do deserve to have more rights. People like Mike Vick who tortured animals should not get to have a career and life that he does. If you can treat an innocent animal that way what are you capable of with humans that often disappoint and fail our expectations. Its ludicrous and we haven't the last of it. Dogs are people too, so are reptiles, fish, gerbils, cats name it, every pet I've ever had have emotions and clearly display them.


Oh do not get me started on Michael Vick!! My daughter says well he paid his debt and served his time.....and she loves and has two of the best dogs....but to me it is like a child abuser.....If he is playing I will turn the channel or walk away. What he did is unforgiveable....and always will be. I agree with you!!!

Joyce Powell

The dogs who share our home are our companions, and they show a wide variety of emotions on a daily basis. But, I don't believe they should be put on the same level as humans, because they are much better than humans - they are loyal, loving, forgiving, and selfless - while humans are becoming more self-centered, self-serving, abusive, greedy, and materialistic every day. We could all learn something from our companion animals.