Vetstreet. All rights reserved. Powered by Brightspot.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
It’s the million-dollar question for anyone who owns a pet: What’s your dog really thinking? Thanks to a feat never before performed by scientists, a team of researchers at Emory University has completed the first in a planned series of experiments to dive deeper into canine gray matter — and the relationship between humans and their pets.
How’d they do it? By wiring two dogs to a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine, the same type used to map the workings of the human brain.
“This experiment was a proof of concept,” says Dr. Gregory Berns, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University, who led the experiment. “Nobody had ever accomplished doing an MRI, or even a functional MRI, on a completely awake, unrestrained dog.”
He’s quick to point out that no animals were harmed in the process of the experiment. In fact, one of the two dogs tested, Callie, a Feist hunting dog he adopted from a shelter, was his own.
Vetstreet sat down with Dr. Berns to pick his brain about what he learned about dogs’ wiring — and where research on the human-dog bond is headed.
A. Dr. Berns: "The reason no one ever attempted this before is that everyone previously thought the dog was going to move too much [in the machine]. We hit on the idea that that’s not necessarily true, so let’s see if we can train some dogs to hold their heads perfectly still to get perfectly fine MRI images.
Then, once we were sure we could get that, we started asking reasonable scientific questions that were really simple. We used two hand signals — one indicated to the dog that he was going to get a hot dog treat, the other was to get no treat."
A. "We already know a great deal about how the reward system of humans works, which is pretty much how it works in all animals. We knew it should be located in the brain, and we wanted to work out the details of how it does work — and quiet the critics who say that you can’t make a dog do that. We’re now at a stage where we can ask more complicated questions about the dog-human relationship."
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Bartonella is a type bacteria that can be transmitted to cats, dogs and humans from exposure to infected fleas and…
Want to give your pup yummy, low-calorie treats? We’ve got the skinny on which foods are OK to feed him.
Not sure about food puzzles? Our veterinarian reveals why the payoff for your pet is well worth any extra work.
With these simple dental care tips, you can help keep your canine’s adorable smile shiny and healthy for life.
The friendly and inquisitive LaPerm has an easy-care coat that comes in a variety of colors and patterns.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.