What is your dog thinking?

Brain scans unleash canine secrets

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | May 9, 2012

Many dog lovers make all kinds of inferences about how their pets feel about them, but no one has captured images of actual canine thought processes — until now. 

When your dog gazes up at you adoringly, what does it see? A best friend? A pack leader? A can opener?

Many dog lovers make all kinds of inferences about how their pets feel about them, but no one has captured images of actual canine thought processes – until now.

Emory University researchers have developed a new methodology to scan the brains of alert dogs and explore the minds of the oldest domesticated species. The technique uses harmless functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the same tool that is unlocking secrets of the human brain.

The Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) is publishing the results of their first experiment, showing how the brains of dogs reacted to hand signals given by their owners.

"It was amazing to see the first brain images of a fully awake, unrestrained dog," says Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy and lead researcher of the dog project. "As far as we know, no one has been able to do this previously. We hope this opens up a whole new door for understanding canine cognition and inter-species communication. We want to understand the dog-human relationship, from the dog’s perspective."

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