What It’s Like to Be a Dog

Berns - What It's Like to Be a Dog.pngWhat It’s Like to Be a Dog and Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience

by Gregory Burns

After the mission to kill Osama bin Laden was made public, neuroscientist Gregory Berns thought about Cairo, the dog who rappelled with his handler from a helicopter into the desert compound in Pakistan. If a dog could be trained in that context, surely Berns could train dogs to enter an MRI machine for a scan. The Dog Project was born. Starting with his dog Callie and using a mock MRI tube and coils, he began training dogs. The dogs were not sedated or restrained and were given the respect according to human subjects–the right to refuse, which some did.

Working with Peter Cook and other colleagues, Berns developed innovative and well-designed studies that revealed aspects of the dog’s brain structure and provided insight into their mental processes. Investigating self-control, preferences, and even emotion recognition, over and over, Berns discovered that humans and dogs shared the same brain structures and that they functioned in the same way. Berns’ interest in dog neuroscience extended to other animals as well. He scanned the brains of sea lions, dolphins, and Tasmanian devils and the extinct Tasmanian Tiger (thylacine). The results Berns shares here provide insight not just into dog neurology, consciousness, and behavior, but into other animals as well, including human animals. We are much more similar than different, and, as Berns anticipated, the “inevitable” result of the studies is a necessary questioning of how we use and abuse animals and their habitats.

I loved What It’s Like to Be a Dog, thought I have to admit that this book appeals to my interests as a dog guardian, animal lover, and animal rights supporter. Even if you do not fall into all or even one of these categories, the book is worth reading. While I thought this might be a rather light-hearted summary of Bern’s research, I was proven wrong. I learned so much about brain structure and function across species. Though the concepts are complicated, Berns writes in an engaging and straightforward manner that make the scientific descriptions easy to follow. Berns summarizes his own research which is innovative and well-designed, and the book itself is well-researched, drawing on the most recent studies. While Berns is excellent recounting the science, he is at his best when describing the dogs who participated in the research. His love for them is clear, and there’s nothing I love more than someone who loves dogs.

Berns’ concludes that research has not yet show that animals are self-aware, but there is no question they are sentient, and he criticizes how we approach animals as property. His analysis only supports my personal beliefs, but this may be controversial for some readers who have a utilitarian approach to the use of animals in research and food production. Although this is definitely a science book, it is completely relatable, and more than once, I was brought to tears. A description of the last Tasmanian Tiger’s final days in an Australian zoo absolutely gutted me, and I had to skip a few paragraph when Berns recounts his experience at his medical school’s dog lab.

The book is illustrated with photographs of the MRI dogs in action as well as some of the brain scans, the former adorable and the latter intriguing. I did wish that there had been an diagram showing the regions of the brain since Berns often referred to different areas. With the title and cover image, I was primed for a book on dogs, so I was surprised to read about sea lions and marsupials, but I welcomed the perspective these studies provided.

Whether you love dogs, enjoy reading about cutting-edge science, or are an animal rights advocate, you should read What It’s Like to Be a Dog. You will learn as much about your own brain as about those of our animal relatives.

Thank you to Netgalley and Basic Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

What is your dog thinking? (YouTube)

Author Website

IMG_7305 (Edited)

Advertisements

#WeRateDogs by Matt Nelson

#WeRateDogs compiles the greatest hits of Matt Nelson’s popular Twitter feed. Nelson rates the dogs (and a couple of other animals, a horse for example) in user-submitted photographs (never lower than 10/10 or 11/10) and writes hilarious captions to go with them. One caption for a yellow lab reads, “Say hello to Winnie. She accidentally opened the front-facing camera, but then realized she’s flawless and proceeded to take more pictures. 13/10 confident af,” (p. 146).

I also love the captions that chastise people for sending “non-dog” photos. “Okay, how did our editor not catch this? We rate dogs, not Yugoslavian Snow Ostriches. Unbelievable. Please be more careful with your submissions next time… 11/10 would still pet,” (p. 16). Of course, there is no such thing as a Yugoslavian Snow Ostrich—the picture is a dog with his head in a hole in a snow-covered yard.

The book is heart-warming and fun. I highly recommend it. While you’re at it, follow #weratedogs on Twitter and Instagram!

A White Thanksgiving

2014-11-27 11.37.11

Our backyard in the snow. I have to admit it’s a pretty sight, although I’d still rather be in Arizona.

dogs in snow

The snow almost reached Lily’s belly! Walter hates being in the snow, but Norman enjoys eating it.

Of course, we had a tofurky, which is our traditional Thanksgiving meal. I had my first tofurky in 1998, just a few years after Turtle Island Foods was founded. I am thankful for them.

2014-11-27 15.28.55

2014-11-27 18.14.272014-11-27 17.46.54

George didn’t want to bake a pie – fair enough, since he made dinner. Since I wanted a desert with applies, I found this recipe: Microwave Apple Crisp. (I made the oven version.) The only modifications were using Earth Balance for the butter and reducing to three apples. Peeling, slicing and coring the apples was a breeze with my Pampered Chef Apple peeler. While I usually avoid single-use items, the apple peeler is so worth it. Pretty tasty!

2014-11-27 22.30.31

Have a Safe and Happy Fourth!

Lily, Norman, and Walter wish you a happy Independence Day and want to remind you to keep your pets safe. More pets go missing on July 4th than any other day of the year, and typical Independence Day celebrations use a number of items that are harmful to cats, dogs, and other critters.

Happy Independence Day from the Pugs

To keep your pets safe, follow these steps:

  1. Keep your cats and dogs inside.
  2. Make sure your pets are wearing ID collars.
  3. Do not take your pets (even dogs) to firework shows and don’t use personal fireworks around your pets. The loud noises can scare pets and make them bolt. If you are using fireworks at home, pets can be exposed to dangerous chemicals.
  4. Keep your pets on their normal diet, and don’t feed them lots of food from the BBQ.
  5. Even if it seems funny, don’t let your dogs or cats drink alcoholic beverages. They can get alcohol poisoning with small amounts of drink.
  6. The material in glow sticks and jewelry is harmful to pets as is citronella. Keep pets away from them.
  7. Do not use sunscreen for people on your dogs or cats. They will lick it off their fur and the chemicals can make them sick. If you have a light-colored dog, you can get a sunscreen just for pooches. Since your cat will be inside, she won’t need sunscreen, but if you are interested, you should consult your veterinarian to find an appropriate solution.

The Ellis-Nosis dogs hope you have a very safe and very happy holiday. They would lick your face if they could.

patriotic dog collage | lily norman and walter pugs

Patty Griffin’s Heavenly Day

Several years ago, Julia introduced me to Patty Griffin’s album 1,000 Kisses, which includes the beautiful and haunting song “Rain.” Since then, I have followed her new releases closely, especially after I learned she’s performed on some Ellis Paul tracks. Although most of her songs feel like they are stabbing you in the heart, she does have some upbeat melodies as well.

Interestingly, “Long Road” is one of the more upbeat songs, in terms of the music. However, if you listen to the lyrics they are heartbreaking. The song is about the funeral of a loved one. “Tony” about a high school outcast who commits suicide is also a catchy tune. All of this points to the unpredictable nature of her music and, to my mind, its thoughtfulness.

Last spring, when Griffin’s new CD “Children Running Through” was released, I was so excited and bought it posthaste. I enjoyed it as much as her previous albums, which combined the gut-wrenching and uplifting. One of the uplifting songs is called “Heavenly Day”:

The smile on your face I live only to see
It’s enough for me, baby, it’s enough for me
Oh, heavenly day, heavenly day, heavenly day

With these lyrics, you might forgive me for assuming the song is about a lazy weekend day with a boyfriend (or girlfriend) or husband/partner.

Last July, Patty Griffin came to Phoenix for a concert, so George, Ryan, and I went. It was phenomenal, amazing, breathtaking… I was so pleased I had the opportunity to see her perform live. One of the most delightful moments was when she introduced “Heavenly Day.” Instead of being about a lover, she said it was about a day with her dog. Of course, that was the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard, and I liked the song even more after that!