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 G.

Of course dogs and other animals have feelings and emotions. They are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for. The people who feel they must consider then as "lower life forms" are people who have very low self esteem and need to "be in control" of someone or something else. It is our responsibility as "civilized" human beings to care for our loving canine family members, because they cannot take care of themselves; After all, you don't see any dogs flying planes into buildings killing thousands of innocent people. Before you respond to that phrase I will state this: Anyone who has owned a dog knows that even if they could fly a plane - they wouldn't - they are too loving and compassionate!

jennifer raifte...

I am bothered by the comment "Dogs are people too." What makes dogs so absolutely perfect is that they are NOT people... And I hope we have moved ahead in this society from the point of women, children, and animals being property.


Animals are not property. Period. No more discussion necessary. I was a zoo docent and have taken upper zoology courses. Amazing the "human" characteristics, though processes and emotions that animals exhibit. I further and deeply believe that God created dogs specifically to help us understand what being "human" means. When little Colton died and went to heaven, and returned to earth (as told in the book "Heaven Is For Real"), he told his father and mother than up in heaven, not only did he see other children, his grandfather and Jesus, but he saw animals, lots of animals. When his parents asked him what kind, he specifically mentioned dogs. Call me bias, but I'll take the words of a 4-year old, after the miracles he saw as accounted for in the book, and look at my 3 Boston Terriers, hug them close, and know I'll see them when they/I get to heaven. Dog ... God spelled backwards.


We loved our dog and cats as family and I don't like the law considering them property. I know my animals have emotions. My golden retriever once got hold of a blueberry pie I had baked and pushed back pretty far from the counter. 2 hours go by and he comes into the bedroom with an unbelievable look of guilt. After a few secobds I figured it out. I saw in the kitchen he had eaten a portion and I believe felt guilty and came in to "show" me. It was a look I had never seen on his face before or after. He also had what we called a "happy bark" when he was excited. I know he's not a person but I know he is not property but family

Lucy Silver

Dogs are feeling beings. So are elephants, pigs, cats, whales, horses, and other mammals. In fact, all life "feels" and is alive. We need to treat all living creatures as such.

Lucy Silver

Dogs and all living creatures are feeling belngs. Treat them with respect!


Here is my experiment...........ouch. See, I gave my dog's tail a little pull and got bit. Of course she has emotions. EVERYONE that can feel pain has emotions. And, just so you all know, my dog was not harmed in this experiment, I was, which just leads me to say never pull a dog's tail. If you do and get bit, it is not the dog's fault.

Bill M.

All animals have emotions just like people. Many good but some bad depending on the dogs or persons environment and predisposition. That is why some dogs listen (cooperative) and some don't (independent). Yes, they are entitled to nothing but the best treatment and love and when not listening, patient training just like your young children. It is also important to always report abusive treatment since the recipient pet can't do it themselves and you really need to step forward and save that pet from the abuser. Does Michael Vick come to mind? What a piece of trash and there are many just like him so when you see abuse, report it right then. Thanks.


It would seem to me that if they gain "personhood" (and I happen to believe that dogs and cats do have emotions) then the punishments given to people who hurt, abuse or kill them, should have the same penalties as if they were human. Maybe even worse since they cannot take care of themselves or fight back. I once recall hearing or reading that "a country's integrity can be determined by how it treats it's animals"......but then that is another road to travel......The laws are very conflicting...if they are property then that makes them no better than my tv....and no one goes to jail for kicking or hitting their own tv. However, someone who steals it can go to jail.....see the conflict. When the word property came into play it was considered chattel like cows and chicken etc. It has long been believed that no animal has feelings or emotions...but we all know that is not true. We must change "man's" idea of the whole thing. Just look into the big brown eyes of your I do mine, and tell me you do not see emotion. Mine is a rescue min-pin. Found on the freeway in san diego county, starved and abused and fearful.... weighed only 5 lbs and to this day will not take food from my hand. I would like to do to those miscreants what they did to her.....ah but then I digress....You see my point....Maybe if we can get stricter laws and more stringent sentences for abusers, that would help people understand on a more gutteral level that they are not property but loving members of our families...and share the kind of emotions that we have as well.

Susan G.

I agree with you when you say that "property" is just like our TV. There is also another problem that no one has yet mentioned. The reason many wish all types of animals to be considered "property" is so that they can continue to use them and make money from them. The cruel treatment of animals is so vast - the way they slaughter horses, the cruel confinement of puppies and "breeding dogs" in puppy mills, chickens being grown too large and too quickly that they can't even get up and often die of hunger and thirst because they can't reach their food which is only inches away. It all comes down to big corporations and MONEY!
We know all animals have feelings, they cry, they can be happy, they hurt - just like we do, no more and no less. What we need are very specific laws that protect our "furry family members" as well as every animal on the planet - equal to humans! After all, we are part of the animal kingdom as well. It is time we prove that we are "civilized" and "compassionate" creatures!