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A. "It’s not so much getting them in the scanner. That builds on natural behaviors — it’s easy to teach them to walk up steps and into a tube. Even placing their heads in a chinrest is a natural position for a dog.
The most difficult part is the noise. MRIs are 95–100 decibels loud, and the dogs are obviously much more sensitive to sounds than we are . . . and it’s bad enough for humans. We trained them to wear earmuffs, and a lot of dogs don’t like messing with their ears. I would [also] play background noises on the stereo that mimicked the machine.
It’s probably the thing that I’m most proud of in the experiment: The amount of care and thought that we’ve given to the dogs. We essentially treated them like humans. If they don’t like the experiment, they just get up and walk out. As far as I know, that’s a first."
A. "I hadn’t thought about doing this until I saw all those pictures of dogs jumping out of helicopters [involved in the rescue]. Nobody thought to do this, because, historically, people who have done MRIs on dog brains are vets. If you take your dog into an MRI, they’re anesthetized. I don’t think that anyone thought to train dogs to do this. But, in retrospect, they’re great. They’re very easy to train, and it’s fun for all of us."
A. "When we measure the fMRI, we’re measuring changes in blood flow to the area, and there are really only three animals in which the reward system has been studied in-depth: humans, rats and monkeys. And so everything that we know about the reward system seems to be the same in all of the species. We had no reason to believe it would be any different in dogs."
A. "Well, the thing is, it’s not merely a pleasure neurotransmitter. It has more to do with an expectation of something positive, and it acts to orient the animal or the person toward an action that they think is going to be good. I call it the 'fuel injector behavior' because, when it activates, gears change in the brain."
A. "At those points in time, when you’re doing the asking, those things are not expected to him, and it releases dopamine. He thinks, 'I know she said something important, so I better pay attention.' It’s not happening at the moment that he gets outside or gets to eat the cheese."
A. "The fact that it worked was surprising enough — just the ability to see the images of the brains up on the screen. They walked in, they put their heads down, and we got the pictures. But now we have more questions: All of them are geared at understanding what a dog is perceiving about humans.
We want to look at whether they consider humans part of the pack. Do they differentiate between humans and other dogs? Are we what anthropologists would call 'fictive kin' . . . do dogs lump us all together? Ultimately, I would like to know if dogs have some form of self-awareness, and do they have some capacity for love. We’ve got years of experiments in the plans."
To see how Dr. Berns trained the dogs to enter the fMRI machines, watch this video.
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