Monday, September 25, 2017

Not That There Was Ever Any Question, But . . .

 . . .Which brings me to the work of Dr. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and the author of “What It’s Like to Be a Dog.”

Berns has, from what I can tell, the best gig in neuroscience. He spends all day taking pictures of dog brains. Don’t worry: He doesn’t remove them. He uses magnetic resonance imaging to study what’s going on in Fido’s head. It’s tougher than it sounds because the dogs have to hold still for Berns to get a good read. But that’s OK. They got the goodest doggos around, as folks on dog-obsessed Twitter might say, to volunteer.
Gotta save characters on Twitter, you know.

And what did Berns discover? Something that almost every dog owner in the world could have told you: Dogs aren’t faking it when they act like they love you. It’s not an act.

Berns and his team confirmed this through a host of tests that looked at different centers of the doggie brain and how they responded to different stimuli. In one test they alternated between giving the pooches hot dogs (the food, not Dachshunds) and offering them praise.
 We call Dachshunds, and other small dogs "mobile kibble."

Looking at the pleasure centers of the dogs’ brains, the researchers found that nearly all the dogs responded to “Who’s a good boy?! You are!” (or whatever they actually said) with at least as much pleasure as when they got a Hebrew National. A fifth of the dogs actually preferred praise to food.

Berns concluded that dogs derive as much pleasure from love as from food. . .
I don't know; Skye sure loves her Dentistix . . .
As a somewhat obsessed dog guy, I’m the first to concede that a central tenet of doggie philosophy is to reject the whole love-vs.-food paradigm as a false choice. Dogs are committed to the idea that there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. But as almost anyone who has come home to their dog after an extended absence will tell you, dogs don’t go bonkers for missing loved ones solely because they think there’s a meal in it for them.

And yet, there are people who argue almost precisely that. There’s what I would call the dumb version and the smart version of that particular school of thought. The dumb version, as the label suggests, is dumb. It can be found in people who say things like, “Dogs just lick you for the salt,” or, “It’s just an animal; you shouldn’t care about its feelings.”
Look in those eyes, and tell me you shouldn't care about it's feelings.
The smart version has more merit. Evolutionary psychologists and other scientists label dogs “social parasites” or, in the words of some, “con artists.” They claim that dogs evolved from wolves to exploit our weakness for cuteness. They also note that dogs evolved an ability found almost nowhere else in the animal world: to read human body language and expressions.

Indeed, Berns found evidence of this in his MRI studies.

Some, rightly, reject the term “parasitism” in favor of “mutualism,” because while dogs certainly benefitted from the warmth of cavemen’s campfires and the tossed scraps from their mastodon kills, they also made important contributions as guard dogs and hunters.

Pat Shipman even speculates in “The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction” that dogs gave us a competitive advantage against our (presumably) hated rivals, the Neanderthals. Dogs — or proto-wolf/dogs — weren’t so much pets as allies in hunting big game, helping us evolve as a cooperative species.
Dogs are GMO wolves. One of those genetic modifications was a change to include people in their social structure. Wolves have a strong social structure, with dominance at the top, and love and support for the pack all around, because they depend on the pack to bring down big prey. The Alpha wolf may rule the pack, but he can't kill a Moose or a Bison by himself. Even the weakest omega wolf contributes to the kill, and get his or her turn at the meal, even if after the good parts are mostly gone.

In the domestication, or maybe co-evolution of wolves and humans, humans were unable to tolerate true alpha wolves, and selected for dogs that accept humans in the role of the top dog. It's not that they don't know the difference between people and dogs, anyone who walks a dog knows that, but they accept the primacy of the humans in their social structure. In return, they evolved an uncanny ability to read our emotions (this was almost certainly a huge selective pressure), and got first crack at all the best garbage.

A few weeks ago, when the news came out about excessive  Huskies coming up for adoption because of "Game of Thrones Effect," someone on Facebook made the statement that Huskies lack a homing instinct, and don't bond with their owners like normal dogs. I responded that they just looked back after 20 miles and thought "Where did they go? I told them to keep up!", and that they were bonded just fine to their owners, but willing to consider a trade up.

Wombat-socho scores a day late with "Late Night With Rule 5 Monday: Coffee, Please".

1 comment:

  1. Having had huskies, they sure as hell do bond with owners, but the "where'd they go?" is 100% true.