What did we do to deserve dogs?

The News TribuneNovember 12, 2013 

Bruiser, a French mastiff, relaxes as children read to him at the Puyallup Public Library in August. He is one of four therapy dogs in the Reading with a Doggie Friend program.

STAFF FILE

Detractors of dogs – sadly, they do exist – claim that canines aren’t fond of their owners; they just fake it so we’ll feed them. What cynics.

Dog-lovers know otherwise. And science has repeatedly backed them up, most recently with an Emory University study that actually got into the canine mind.

Prof. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist, has been training dogs to voluntarily crawl into an MRI scanner and sit still for 30 seconds at a time. The scanner monitors activity in the caudate nucleus, a pleasure center in both people and canines that happily anticipates of food, affection and other wonderful things.

In one experiment, Berns signaled the animals that a hot dog would soon be theirs. Their caudates lit up like a sparkler.

He also exposed the dogs to the scents of their humans. Again, their caudates lit up – just as ours would in response to our best buddy’s arrival.

Does this prove anything more than dogs associate their masters with hot dogs? Maybe not, but it certainly suggests that they love their masters as much as hot dogs.

Outside the laboratory, there’s no end to the evidence that dogs bond with us humans for our own unworthy sakes. Many dogs appear to want nothing more than to please their human pack leaders.

They submit to being dressed up in Halloween costumes. They charge cornered bears. They pull carts and sleds. They break murder cases by tracing the presence of corpses.

They’ve explored outer space for Russians. They’ve sniffed out roadside bombs. They’ve put smiles on the faces of imprisoned, hardened killers. They’ve plunged through snowdrifts to rescue travelers lost in the Alps.

They’ve hounded criminals on behalf of their pack leaders. When they’ve turned vicious, it’s often because they’ve had vicious owners. They’ve led the blind, comforted the lonely, retrieved ducks from frigid marshes. At the dinner table, they’ve surreptitiously helped children make unwanted dishes disappear.

They’ve charged swords, spears and machine guns. They’ve gone into battle with American SEALs. Seriously, would any creature parachute from a helicopter and spy out Taliban positions just to get a Milk-Bone?

The loyalty runs both ways. Last month in San Antonio, the military dedicated the first national monument to canine “Guardians of America’s Freedom,” replete with heroic-sized bronzes of a Labrador, Doberman, German shepherd and Belgian shepherd.

Why do dogs put it all on the line on behalf of all-too-flawed homo sapiens? From canine point of view, it’s not “Dogs are people, too.” It’s probably more like, “People are dogs, too.” Man’s best friend is not just a cliché; it’s just what they are.

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