Want to Know What Your Dog is Thinking?

Every dog owner would like to know what their dog is thinking. Over time we come to believe we understand them, but it would be so much easier if they could just tell us. Science may now be very close to finding the answers to what is going on in a dog’s brain.

A team at Emory University in Atlanta, led by neuroscientist Greg Berns, knew that in order to understand the workings of a dog’s brain they’d need to study the brain in action. The dog would not just need to be alive, and not just conscious, but conscious and sitting perfectly still inside an MRI scanner. Have you ever been inside one of those? Many people can’t handle the claustrophobia and terrible noise. Getting a dog to remain still is a whole other challenge. Nevertheless, Berns’ researchers managed to do just that. Not one, but two test subjects (including Callie, pictured) were trained to remain still in an MRI machine. The team’s findings have been published this month in the journal PLoS ONE.

From an article in LiveScience:

In the experiment, the dogs were trained to respond to hand signals, with the left hand pointing down signaling the dog would receive a hot-dog treat and the other gesture (both hands pointing toward each other horizontally) meaning “no treat.” When the dogs saw the treat signal, the caudate region of the brain showed activity, a region associated with rewards in humans. That same area didn’t rev up when dogs saw the no-treat signal.

The world of canine cognition is in its infancy, but for the first time, there’s a path to learning more, and finally understanding what dogs think.


Photo credit: Bryan Meltz, Emory University

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